By Jake Underwood on Mon, 12/02/2013
Apple fans from any generation seem to have a special love for product design. But up until this year, it was impossible to find a comprehensive collection of photographs covering Apple's design history, leaving many of these diehards with only mental images. Iconic, a massive photographic coffee table book on the history of Apple, showcases almost every product Apple has ever made. Author and creator Jonathan Zufi talked to iPhone Life about the book, taking the photos, and what it was like to talk to one of the founders of the world's most valuable company.
Could you explain the project a little bit?
Back in 2009, I had this moment of nostalgia and I remembered an old computer game I used to play when I was in high school; and so I jumped on eBay to look for an old computer to play the game on. I started browsing through eBay and saw all of these retro computers, and I just had this crazy idea about creating an online photo depository of Apple products and just decided to do it properly I needed to really cover every single product they've ever made. I went on this buying spree and I started buying whatever products I could find on eBay. I started the project and it kind of grew and grew and I launched the website in 2011. Around that time, a friend of mine had told me that the photos looked really good and that I should think about doing a coffee table book. I went and self published and found a designer and editor and put the book together.
That's awesome. You obviously met a lot of people on your trip to find the pictures. Besides the fact that they were interested in Apple, what was a common thing you found between each person?
Just a passion for the company and the products. Everyone was either a collector or ex-employee, and they just loved the company and loved the products. One of the coolest things is so many employees have reached out to say that they also want a copy of the book, but also to say, "I've been working at Apple for twenty years and I had no idea that they once made video cameras and scanners," and things like that. That's been pretty cool.
I saw in the video on iconicbook.com that the foreword was by Steve Wozniak and there are other parts where key players in Apple's history talked about Apple. What did you discover by talking to them?
Apple's policy about looking back is pretty well-documented. Phil Schiller said that someone put forward a recommendation of building a museum on the new campus. Someone sent a letter to the executive team and Phil Schiller wrote back and it was covered in the news. He said that Apple is about inventing the future, not celebrating the past. That's their official stance; but when you talk to all of these people, everyone is interested in these past products because they all bring this nostalgia and they all remind people of just how amazing the company is. I'd say one of the common threads is interest and support in the project and what I've done.
How easy or difficult was it to talk to these people? Steve Wozniak is probably not an easy guy to reach.
He's not. I could probably write a second book about what it took to get in touch with him. The compressed version is that I managed to locate a personal friend of his and I reached out and said, "Hey, I'm trying to get in touch with Steve and I'm really just looking for a quote." That kind of ended up with a meet-up in Atlanta; and I showed him the full draft of the book and, no doubt, about 85 percent of the way through, he just put it down and looked at me and said it was incredible. I just wanted to get his blessing and ask him to write the introduction and he said, "Absolutely." He travels a lot and has done a lot of public speaking around the world, from Moscow to Tokyo to Oakland to Australia. He's a huge traveler. Getting a moment with him was like winning the jackpot. He's been very supportive and absolutely loves the book and I'm very lucky to have his participation.
When I was looking on the website through the pictures, the book seems to highlight the physical beauty of the product. What percentage do you think design contributes to the success of Apple products?
I think it's more and more about design today. People didn't really appreciate the whole design side in the beginning. If you have a look at the Macintosh, it was just different to anything that anyone had ever seen before. Today, I think it's a combination of design and usability, obviously. Apple has got a lot more competitive pressure with devices like Android and Windows Mobile. The best example is probably going to be the new Mac Pro. It's just beautiful to look at. If you watch all the videos and all of the stuff Jonathan Ive talks about, it's beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. I think that obviously there is a part of the population that couldn't care less about design. They just want it to be easy to use but there is a large population of people that want a product that looks good, feels good, and is usable. I think design still plays a huge part.
I looked at your LinkedIn page and saw that your job at SAP seems pretty demanding and important. How do you balance your normal job with an ambitious project like Iconic?
It's one of the reasons it took four years. I started back in 2009 and I was working for a different company then. I switched to SAP in 2011. It was just making sure I met my responsibilities during the day and coming home and working on it three or four hours until midnight and trying to get six or eight hours and do it all the next day. I was very transparent with my manager at work and everyone at SAP has been hugely supportive. I'm still managing to do a great job at SAP. I love working there. Now that the book is out, I have a little less pressure on the book side. I guess it's just accepting the fact you're going to be sleeping a little late [laughs].
At SAP, I saw that you do a lot of UI and UX. Do you see benefits of using Apple products to do those things and make apps versus the competition?
There is a whole other discussion on this, iOS versus Android. My team builds concept applications and prototypes that support SAP accounts. For us, iOS is a lot more predictable. If you want to build an app for Android, you have a lot more decisions you have to make, in terms of form factors, compatibility, and operating systems. Whereas if you build something for an iOS device, it's pretty predictable, whether it's an iPad or iPhone. SAP is a very heavy Apple company. Just from a development perspective, I think iOS is a much better environment to work with. Also, the target audience has a higher chance of having an iOS device than an Android tablet. Having said that, we develop for Android as well.
How much do you think you traveled worldwide to take all the pictures?
Worldwide, it wasn't that much. It was mainly domestic, from Portland to New York, to a lot of trips to San Francisco and Palo Alto, to Atlanta and South Carolina and Florida.