Thanks to John Gruber, I came across this wonderful gem of an article written by John R. Moran. He explores Apple's thought process behind design and why other technology companies are "missing the forest for the trees." Consider this excerpt:
The opposite of design, then, is the failure to develop and employ intent in making creative decisions. This doesn’t sound hard, but, astonishingly, no other leading tech company makes intentional design choices like Apple.
Poignant note. But here is what really caught my attention:
Great designers know that sacred cows must always be evaluated for slaughter. Apple is famed for aggressively making clean breaks with the past; you can decry any one decision, but to Apple, nothing is ever settled for good. As Christa Mrgan astutely observed in Macworld, “Sentimentality doesn’t make for good design.”
I've noticed this about myself. I have a tendency to look at my old work and consider it the gold standard, my magnum opus. My old designs are one-hit-wonders that was created in frenzies that could never be replicated today. And designs that I continue to maintain (whittled down to my personal brand) feel stationary because they have reached a peak of quality in my mind.
And yet, Apple as a company doesn't do this. They are ready to slaughter their old design and cripple it at the heels, in order to bring a newborn into the world. I used to think that if I could adopt a particular style, read a particular philosophy, I would hone in on the key ingredient of design. I would be able to copy it and reproduce it over and over again with success.
This is a fallacy. Good design is creating new ideas. Great design is creating ideas with an intent that is refined and ready to adapt to the changing conditions. It is recognizing that your design doesn't stand the test of time unless you design with that intent. To withstand the pressure of change or design by committee, you need to be able to show solidarity with your design decisions.
The past designs of the 20th century are not the canon of design for humanity. The crux of design lies in the ability to readapt your initial intention over and over again. Your design flows from your intention, from your intuition, from the deliberate choices that you make and take ownership of. It is a patient exercise that requires keen insight. It requires due diligence and an extreme, intricate focus on the platform at hand. It requires you to embrace the past's lessons and then let go of its teachings to forge your new blade.
Only then can you form what is truly great design.