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At Apple University, studying Picasso helps with product design

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78-button Google TV remote is an example of what not to do

The New York Times has published a rare look inside Apple's secretive training program known as "Apple University." New recruits are encouraged to sign up for courses in the program, which was conceived by Steve Jobs in order to ensure that employees are steeped in the company's history and culture. Joel Podolny, Apple's VP of human resources and formerly dean of Yale School of Management, founded the program in 2008.

Among the revelations gleaned from the three class attendees that the Times spoke to:

  • Picasso's Bull, a series of eleven lithographs in which the master artist deconstructs a bull down to its most abstract form, is shown as inspiration for Apple's minimalist design philosophy. "You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do," said the person who took the "Communicating at Apple" class, taught by Pixar alumnus Randy Nelson
  • Another class of Nelson's reportedly compared a 78-button Google TV remote to Apple's tiny Apple TV equivalent, which features just three (in addition to the directional controls). Nelson says that the Google TV remote is the result of over-engineering by appeasing several designers on a team, whereas Apple decided only three discrete functions were necessary
  • Steve Jobs' controversial decision to open up iTunes to Windows, which ultimately rocketed the iPod and iTunes Music Store's popularity to power Apple's turnaround, is taught as a case study
  • There may be a course aimed at new employees that have come from Beats
  • Faculty members come from institutions like Harvard, Yale, MIT, and beyond
  • "Even the toilet paper in the bathrooms is really nice," according to one employee

The full story is well worth a read for insight into how Apple plans to preserve its unique culture even without Jobs at the helm. As Apple prepares to launch new kinds of products amid some notable shifts in attitude, it'll be intriguing to watch what changes and what stays the same.