As noted by Arstechnica, a Businessweek article reports on an interesting presentation at the SXSW conference by Apple senior engineering manager Michael Lopp. He describes Apple's design approach in coming up with their products:
Pixel Perfect Mockups - While it adds time upfront, it "removes all ambiguity" and the need to correct mistakes later down the line.
10 to 3 to 1 - Designers mock up 10 different unrestricted designs for a given feature. From these, 3 are chosen for further development until a final one is chosen.
Paired Design Meetings - Two meetings. One is for free thinking ("go crazy") without worries about any technical constraints, while the other meeting addresses implementation and practical considerations. Both of these meetings continue throughout product development.
this is a very interesting way of thinking, in terms of design process. most designers, UI (user interface, and UX (user experience) people vouch for wireframe design to make sure priorities and messages are locked down before any design and skinning is done. in contrast, it looks like apple does that as well as incorporate "pixel perfect mockups", which implies that all buttons and graphics are rendered without placeholder and all copy is written. this is a very time consuming process, but it seems that everyone will be able to understand the design clearly (whether they are design oriented or not). the only thing they could do past this is create prototypes for people to play with.
i really like their process. very interesting—it allows the designers think up of the future... and allows the engineers to bring it back to earth. this is a process i will start adapting at my company.