Designing the MagSafe Stand
When Apple launched the MagSafe iPhone charger, we knew we had to make a stand for it, as fast as we possibly could. Here’s how we did it.
A Surprise, a Risky Enterprise
We’d been working for a while on a redesign of our wireless charger and on designing a new double charger, for two devices. When MagSafe showed up, it was a total game changer, and we were not at all prepared for it.

Our work became obsolete overnight.

We had just poured many months and dollars into researching and developing updated Qi chargers (including hiring on a freelance mechanical engineer) which would now be outdated technology. This is the peril of designing for other companies’ products.
Hit Pause
We didn’t do anything for several days. We needed to process what had happened. At the time it felt like a huge loss for our tight-knit team.

This gave us time to remember who we are and what motivates us. A setback is a chance to restart. A disappointment is an opportunity to grow and discover. In taking a moment to reflect, we realized that the MagSafe created a need, and we could fill it.

People were going to want MagSafe accessories, and we wanted to be first to market. It was go time.

Going For It
Once we’d decided to make a move, we felt that old adrenaline rush that comes with designing a product around a launch, like we used to do for iPhone cases.

And we were further inspired by a pleasant surprise: our past work on wireless charging put us in a good position to quickly design a stellar product. We’d done such a deep study into the materials and form for the chargers. It gave us a rich well of information to draw from, one that included all the models we’d scratched. We took what we learned from that journey and applied it to the new technology.
Unreleased prototype of double Qi charger
In a few days we went from feeling debilitated to feeling prepared and agile. A great reminder to 'trust the process!'
Fast and Fun
For a week and a half Sean and Ken were texting like it was going out of style. As Ken put it, "It was fun to flex those fast-twitch muscles as an organization. Every day counted."
And they had to start designing before they even had the MagSafe puck in hand, which meant they had to make changes on the fly once the puck came in. This was a true design sprint, turning around a finished product in a week and a half.
At the Drawing Board
Sean and Ken began with some essentials.

Usability. We needed to make it work for all sizes of phone, at any orientation.

We prototyped shapes and sizes using a 3D printer, speeding through ideas and chiseling away at a concept. While Sean’s box of spray-painted plastic prototypes was filling up, we were narrowing in on our heavy, pill-shaped, wide-chamfered stand.
We decided on a vertical stand to capitalize on the magnetic function, and optimize it for desk work. Even if you don’t need to charge your phone, the stand is the perfect place to put it for all those video calls. We set it at an angle to create a gentle slope—easier on the eyes, whether gazing into Zoom or watching basketball highlights at lunch.
Grabbability. We felt our customers need to be able to use it one-handed, so we did two things:

We made a huge chamfer, the biggest one we’d done on solid wood. This gives your fingers enough room to get purchase on your phone—the MagSafe holds on well to the device, so we needed to make sure our customers weren’t torquing their phone to get it off.
We also made a super heavy, non-slip base. Three pounds of high-quality, machined steel would do the trick, with a grippy rubber pad adhered to the bottom.

The heavy metal base would increase our costs substantially. But the cheaper alternative, using a light base supplemented with micro-suction tape, wouldn't work across multiple types of surfaces and just didn’t feel like us.

We love making things really heavy.

Lead Product Designer
The heaviness of the base is surprising and is the simple, most effective solution—the material takes care of the function on its own.
Functional Elegance
At first the face was a circle to reiterate the circular MagSafe puck. But this created an awkward gap between the bottom of the face and the horizontal base. To fix it, Sean elongated the face, switching to the pill shape that’s seen in products like the ruler and the headphone stand.
In addition to sizing down the gap, it opened up the space between the bottom of the puck and the inside lower edge of the face. Now it would be a more fluid movement for the customer to insert, and if needed, remove the puck.
Celebrate the Limitation
It was coming together, but what about cord management? The cord doesn’t bend very well close to the base, so the first thought was to hide it with a very thin piece of material.

But then Sean had a designer’s aha moment.

Instead of fighting that limitation of the cord not being able to bend, we decided to celebrate it.

The solution was to let the cord be what it was, falling easily from the puck through a hole in the base. A fluidity that came from a flexibility in thinking.
Totally Obsessive
We hit a delay when Sean and Ken disagreed for a (short) while about the hole shape where the cord falls through. Pill? Or circle? Sean was pulling circle for the way it reflected and carried on the circle of the puck.

Ken pulled pill for the way it played off of the pill shape of the face. It seemed to be a better fit for the cord coming through.

Every detail matters, but, as Sean says, “there was no right or wrong answer on this one. The pill and the circle are common shapes across our products.”

Then we got hung up on the fasteners on the back. Sean really was opposed to having them be visible at first. But Ben, our engineer, was committed. He came back with screw sample after screw sample, convinced that a screw would be the best way to secure the back piece, and that he’d find one beautiful enough to be visible.
His dedication paid off. Sean and Ken think the screws are gorgeous!
Lightning Fast
We did it. A beautiful product at supersonic speed. But a sprint doesn’t happen in isolation. It’s the result of serious training and prep work through years of product development—specifically the headphone stand, the keyring, the ruler, the mousepad, and the double wireless charger. And pepper on top our advantage of having in-house manufacturing capabilities.
We were fine-tuned and ready to run. And it was fun. With sudden rapid fire bursts, the freedom to throw things out to the wind, to chisel out a sculpture very quickly.
The Result
From all of that chiseling came the MagSafe stand. A heavy base, a slanting vertical stand, an elongated front, floating faces and open spaces.
It’s the floating and openness that gives the sense that the stand is levitating. A total visual lightness, paradoxically anchored by the heavy base.

The floating effect looks kind of impossible. I think it’s one of my favorite products.

There’s also the joy in its use. It’s effortless to lock your phone into place to charge. It makes video calls so much easier. You can take your phone from it and it won’t budge, there’s no hitch.

It took a challenging push, an intense design sprint. But you wouldn’t know. It’s a stand that floats, without moving an inch.

Further Reading