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Apple designer describes company's 'kitchen table' in testimony

On the stand, an Apple designer Christopher Stringer recounts how the company takes a device from brainstorming to market, including sitting around a kitchen table.

Christopher Stringer (left) next to Apple design chief Sir Jony Ive (right) at a product launch.
Christopher Stringer (left) next to Apple design chief Sir Jony Ive (right) at a product launch in San Francisco.
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A single button on one of Apple's phones or tablets might have gone through 50 or more iterations before ending up in the final design, one of the company's lead designers said today.

The first expert witness in the jury trial between Apple and Samsung here was Christopher Stringer, who has been an industrial designer at Apple since 1995 and helped design the iPhone along with other Apple products.

In his testimony, Stringer -- who donned an all-white suit to court -- said that the design process for any product typically began with lots of sketching, before heading off to a phase where it's refined with computer-aided drafting (CAD)

"We work together around a kitchen table," Stringer said. "We have our lives all around the products. In some ways it feels like a small company."

Apple is calling upon Stringer to discuss the beginnings of the design around the look and feel of the iPhone, which it claims Samsung copied. Stringer's name is on a number of the company's patents, including design patents Apple is using against Samsung in the case.

"We've been ripped off, it's plain to see. It's offensive," Stringer said of Samsung's accused devices. "It's a huge leap of imagination to come up with something new, that's something we did. By which you have to dismiss everything you know, forget everything you know, it can be difficult."

"If you pay attention to the competition, you end up following, and that's something we didn't want to do," he added.

Nonetheless, a cross-examination of Stringer by Samsung pointed to the fact that the company used summaries of designs and spec sheets from competitors from what Apple dubbed internally as its "enemies," and that Stringer had requested one of these summaries ahead of an industrial engineering brainstorming section. Stringer said that the team was "very interested" in the dimensions others were using, but said that it was not an inspiration for new products.

Stringer referred to the design incubation ahead of both the iPhone and the iPad as "a long time," and in the iPhone's case, years even. During the testimony, Stringer outlined the way a product is formed within the company, from sketches to CAD then to 3D models which let the team refine various aspects of a design.

"We are a pretty maniacal group of people," Stringer said. "The size, the length, the width, the height -- every single detail is crafted." On the way there, Stringer said the design team's role is to "imagine objects that don't exist, and guide the process that brings them to life."

Before the testimony could begin, lawyers from both sides hashed out last-minute details about what exhibits could and could not be included in the testimony. That includes design elements from Apple patents on which Stringer was named.

Other tidbits gleaned from Stringer's testimony is that the company will go out of its way to throw off those that might see an early version of a design. That includes early renderings of the iPhone and iPad with the name iPod on the back.

"We wanted to see something graphically on the back, or we were trying to disguise its iPhone identity," Stringer said.

Stringer's testimony is the first of many to come as part of the trial between the two tech giants, which is expected to run into late-August. Earlier today both companies presented their opening statements.

Updated at 4:26 p.m. PT with additional details from the testimony.