How Design Creates Culture: Apple’s Infinite Loop
Before the Mac, personal technology was all about the R&D; design was an afterthought. But Apple placed design on equal footing with R&D, and never relented. Even the company’s two headquarters in Cupertino, CA count as spectacles of design, most extravagantly what is called Apple Park, the spaceship-looking building Apple opened in 2017.
But before Apple Park, there was Apple Campus, which was also known as Infinite Loop, and named after a programming concept. Infinite Loop, which served as Apple’s headquarters from 1993 until 2017, resembled a university campus, with buildings surrounding a green space, like a college quad.
The campus served as the birthplace for a wild diversity of world-changing innovations, and it lives on; Apple employees still work there. WIRED magazine dived deep into the history and culture of Infinite Loop, crafting a fascinating series of Q&As with early Apple innovators about their relationship to Infinite Loop. Did an office building influence corporate culture? Absolutely. We mined the piece for the most relevant tidbits.
Infinite Loop was divided into six u-shaped buildings, one of which held Apple Founder and CEO Steve Jobs’s office. That building became the gateway to All Things Apple. It had a coffee bar — not a standard office perk back in the early ‘90s — as well as an atrium. The atrium in particular became the “crossroads” for Apple. You could hang out there for a day and encounter half of the people you needed to see, even though they all worked in different buildings. Without the atrium, a lot of impromptu and productive exchanges never would have happened.
Ditch the Office
As its name suggests, Infinite Loop was a circle. And Jobs leveraged the design for meetings throughout the day. Instead of just sitting in chairs around tables, he frequently held meetings while navigating the loop. Just as the atrium nurtured chance encounters between employees, so did the focused strolls through the loop bring people together. Walking meetings were not standard operating procedure in the ‘90s, and they still aren’t today. But they are a great idea, and Infinite Loop’s design made them happen.
The atrium’s promotion of serendipitous meetings represents just one of its design-centered advantages; it also boosted employee morale. The space had an almost cathedral-like grandeur, and Jobs leveraged it, at first, to tout Apple. He hung enormous “Think Different” banners through the atrium. But then he started putting images of new products on the banners as well. And as one employee told WIRED, “If you are a product manager or an engineer or a team, there’s nothing more motivating than seeing your product 40 feet high on a billboard.”
The coffee bar in the atrium was an excellent start, but when it came to fuel for workers, Apple took things much further. Jobs tapped a local chef, whose restaurant he liked, to take over the operation. When the chef insisted his team be employees rather than contractors, Jobs agreed. And then he kept the cooking team happy with a parade of gadgets: a coffee roaster, back when that was novel; an outdoor wood-burning pizza oven. The cooks nailed gelato-making, and it became part of the culture. He even hired a woman who made perfect udon noodles, which turned into an Apple staple. By crafting a vibrant meeting place for eating and chatting, Apple helped diminish solo lunch noshing while sitting at a desk; necessary sometimes, when deadlines clamor, but in the long-term corrosive to collaboration. Just like the atrium and the circular design, the cafeteria promoted teamwork.