Text: Jens Persson, November 2019
In the late 1980s, a young Camille Moussette navigated his
radio-controlled cars down the streets of Montreal, Canada, with
expert precision. In the evenings, him and his father used to
tinker with the cars' engines in the basement. The young boy's
fascination for mechanical things didn't stop at RC cars.
Everything from computers to photo equipment caught his eye. His
interest in how the world works, and the things in it, would not
wane over time. In fact, he would later influence how things,
namely Apple products, would be experienced by hundreds of millions
of users across the globe.
In his role as lead interaction designer at Apple, Camille has a
very clear idea of what his design vision entails. The
functionalities that he creates for products should offer a 'human
touch'. The word touch should be taken quite literally
here. Camille's field of interaction design is known as haptics,
which is basically designing for touch, instead of vision or
hearing. The obvious example being the vibration you experience in
your pocket when your phone rings, instead of the actual audible
The Photo Club Epiphany
Camille's path towards the design profession was not a straight
one. While new technologies always interested him as a child - from
cars to cameras - his fascination veered towards the physical
machinery of the objects, rather than the aesthetics or the user
experience. It was also his interest in physics that would inspire
his first endeavor into the world of academia, at Sherbrook
University in Canada.
"I really liked the experimental aspects of physics, building
stuff and trying things out in the real world. That's what made me
do my first bachelor in physics, with a focus in microelectronics.
Although, I would soon learn that all aspects of academic physics
were perhaps not for me. I barely passed my final quantum physics
exam and that's probably when I realized that I wasn't cut for hard
science, at least not quantum physics and advanced mathematics. My
peers were so much better than I, and to be honest it's really not
comfortable for my brain to grapple with mathematics on that
Camille Moussette during his time at
Camille's struggles with mathematics pushed open another door.
When he wasn't wrecking his brain trying to grasp the complexities
of theoretical physics, he increasingly found refuge at the
university photo club that he helped direct and run over three
years. The photo club was not only a sanctuary from the rigidity of
hard science. Here, he could express his artistic side through
photography. As time went by, the photo club seemed to command more
and more of his time. He would spend late evenings developing black
and white photographs using traditional methods as well as writing
software for him and his peers to be able to scan and retouch
As his time at Sherbrooke University drew to a close, Camille
had realized that he would never become that stereotypical
scientist with Einstein-esque hair, pondering mathematical theorems
in closed chambers. The photo club had awakened a desire to combine
the nuts and bolts of physics with his more practical, yet creative
side. Hence, industrial design.
Making the Digital Physical
Camille's first foray into design brought him back to his native
Montreal where he studied the bachelor programme in industrial
design. While it was an inspirational time, his desire to combine
technology and design wasn't quite met. More tabletops than laptops
on the curriculum, so to speak. It was not until his final degree
project that he could start exploring what would later become his
niche as a professional designer.
"I was always more into the intersect between design and
technology so I ended up doing a grad project where I developed a
watch notification functionality. The product or service I created
was placed under the watch and it vibrated to let you know that
your phone was ringing. That project was a real eye opener for me.
It was the first time that I combined electronics and design, and
where the interaction and the user experience was more important
than the physical embodiment of the thing. It was a natural fit for
me considering my background."
Experimental prototype from
Camille's PhD thesis, 'Simple Haptics'
"After that experience I knew that I wanted to help make digital
products tangible in some way. I wanted them to be more dynamic and
sort of come alive, become useful and meaningful when you used
them. But I also knew that my skills as a designer, especially
understanding the user and the process, wasn't enough to do what I
wanted to do."
In the third year of his bachelor in Montreal, Camille visited
Finland as an exchange student. He had always been curious about
the Nordic countries and after a year at Oulu University he had
fallen in love with the way of life in Northern Scandinavia. Oulu
sits just across the Bothnian Bay from Umeå and when Camille was
looking for a place to do his master's in interaction design in
2007, Umeå Institute of Design seemed like a good fit. He ended up
staying for eight years.
Designing for Touch
The Master's Programme in Interaction Design at Umeå Institute
of Design helped Camille bridge the gap between technology and
human behavior, learning how to give shape to that very relation.
All through his master's, as well as the PhD programme that he
would later pioneer at UID, Camille was focused on haptics.
From the time of his first grad project in Montreal he had
always felt that designing for touch was an unexploited field. As
he approached his PhD, he was certain that he had found a blind
spot in the way communication devices were designed. For whatever
reason, this design medium had been either overlooked or
deliberately brushed to the side by designers and companies in the
Camille Moussette 'nailing' his
thesis upon completing his PhD defense
"Often in design, we tend to rely on the latest technical
development and industry trends to tell us in which direction we
should go, instead of just experimenting. I made it my mission
during my PhD at UID to just keep on playing around with different
prototypes, exploring how haptics could be used for a lot of
different design purposes. The more I got into it, the more excited
"At the end of my PhD, I was looking for senior academic
professionals to be on my evaluation board and I contacted a
professor from Yale whom I had collaborated with before. He said he
would love to do it but that unfortunately he had just left
academia for a new position at Apple. He invited me for a job
interview as soon as I had finished my PhD. Within a couple months
I too had moved to California, starting a new job at Apple."
Camille in the Apple Factory
When Camille first arrived at the Apple headquarters it was a
bit like Charlie walking into the chocolate factory. For a budding
interaction designer, opportunities seemed endless. He initially
joined a prototyping engineering team, but also worked closely with
the industrial design group on new product experiences. Later on,
he transferred to the design team to explore hardware interaction
design. Today, the design team at Apple consists of over a hundred
people, working on everything from traditional product design, to
interaction design, to interface design. It is a place where ideas
quickly can become reality, where the final products end up in the
hands of hundreds of millions of people, across cultures and
Throughout his career in design, and before really, Camille has
stayed true to his core design methodology. And that is simply to
build stuff, and then build again. He believes that only through
the process of making hardware sketches, prototypes and testing
models, can you get close to the real thing, the end user
experience. This seems to be true whether you are in the design
studio at Apple headquarters or in your dad's basement in
"The most rewarding part of the design process, for me, is when
you get creative and come up with exciting yet incomplete ideas,
and just build stuff to learn. In my day to day, I tend to build a
lot of things because when you have an idea, you can't get close to
the actual experience until you engage with it in a physical and
visceral way, from the point of the user. Engaging intellectually
is simply not enough."
"At times we have these moments when we're playing with
prototypes and it feels special, magical and humanely satisfying.
These are insights that no amount of rationalizing or intellectual
exercise can offer. You have to craft something real into the world
and when it works it speaks back to you, and that moment is
Making a Mark
When you are a cog in the global Apple machinery, it means that
you are always designing for an audience of millions. The sheer
impact in numbers that comes with being part of the world's leading
tech company is mind-boggling. When it comes to taking an idea and
manufacturing it at scale, few can compete. This should add a bit
of pressure to the design experience, one would imagine.
"Being part of this massive machinery, you feel a great
responsibility to do your homework, no doubt. If they say go,
they're going to manufacture hundreds of thousand of phones a day
containing that very thing that you first thought was interesting
and then helped develop. It's scary and exciting at the same
Camille Moussette during a visit to the UID18
Design Talks & Degree Show
Some of the design applications that carry Camille's
fingerprints are the 'Taptic Engine' in the AppleWatch, the haptic
'Home Button' and the 'Attention Aware' features with 'FaceID' on
the newer iPhones.
"These design solutions all relate to some aspect of my first
grad project in Montreal where I made this vibrating watch to
replace the phone's ringtone. It's all about being considerate,
really. Looking at the FaceID functionality on the current iPhones
for example, when it rings now and identifies a face it will reduce
the volume of the ringtone as well as the vibrating
"The haptic experiences that we use today are much more subtle
and refined. We want to create very precise taps, instead of
overwhelming and stress-inducing vibrations. That gives us the
ability to be more delicate and gentle, kind of like someone
tapping you on the shoulder instead of shaking you."
Quite simply, a human touch.