“Do they really need him? Apple just makes rectangles for all their products now.”
“Many Apple products could use a big design refresh anyway.”
This is just a small selection of the less-than kind comments found on articles about Sir Jony Ive (I’m British, so I have no problem calling him by his title, unlike others) leaving Apple to start his own design firm. Spiteful, derogatory, and dismissive, none take into account the impact most products that occupy the pages of his sketchpad have on us, and the entire industry.
That said, gushing, laudatory reactions more fitting to the man’s obituary are also unnecessary. A more measured approach to what is undoubtably a transformative time for Ive and Apple itself is needed, at least to truly appreciate what is the end of one era and the beginning of another. Remember, Ive has not retired. We’re going to continue to see his creations, both inside and outside the campus he designed for Apple.
How many designers do you know by name?
A legacy of products is one thing, but even in today’s climate of tech executive adoration, the name of the person that designed even the most eye-catching products is rarely known. Jony Ive’s name is known, and not just to those wired into the industry, or lifelong Apple devotees. His name affords the same recognition as Alec Issigonis (the designer of the original Mini), and a legion of fashion designers from Pierre Cardin to Calvin Klein; but in the world of tech, he stands almost alone.
Don’t believe me? Who designed the Galaxy S10? The BlackBerry Bold? How about the LG Watch Urbane? What about that swish Smeg range? Even designers of beautiful pieces of tech from companies like Bang & Olufsen struggle to find the recognition Ive has cultivated with his work and singular association with Apple. Even if people recognize names like Sir James Dyson, legends like Sir Clive Sinclair, or software masterminds like Sid Meier, it’s rarely as designers, and more as entrepreneurs or luminaries.
Ive is a designer, and everyone knows him as one. This is also evidenced in the honors he received in his home country. You don’t get the honor of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) or Knight of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) without making a substantial contribution to your chosen field. Ive’s is for services to design and enterprise.
The Apple Watch Effect
If Ive is known as a designer, what has he designed that you’ve used, or are using? The list is long, often illustrious, and sometimes even a bit disappointing — ranging from the original iPhone, to the iMac, the iPad, modern iterations of iOS and MacOS, and even the Apple Campus. The iPhone’s battery case isn’t a winner, the recent Mac Pro has split opinion, and the less said about butterfly keyboards the better.
However, if there is a Jony Ive-designed product that stands out to me for its foresight, beautiful simplicity, and as industry-changing as the original iPhone, it’s the Apple Watch. It’s important for another reason too — Apple and Ive consulted with watchmaking experts to get it right. This collaborative approach may be the shape of things to come for Apple and Ive — but more on that in a moment.
Think back to when the Apple Watch first came out. Smartwatches were not a thing at all. Watches were the plaything of the collector, or a relic of days past, because we all checked the time on our phones. Ive designed two sizes so it would fit all wrists, worked on multiple straps and bracelets because tactility and beauty mattered, and even made a premium model that cost more than most used cars, because luxury watches are always desirable.
I recall going to the original Apple Watch launch at a massive department store in London. An entire corner of the store had been turned over to the Watch, with each version on display for people to use and try on. It was packed, the interest was huge, and there was genuine excitement over a brand new product from Apple. It justifiably surpassed the fervor that surrounded the iPad, in my opinion.
After that, the Apple Watch went on to become not just the best selling smartwatch, but the world’s best selling watch too. It wasn’t considered a winner instantly either. The design was dismissed as unattractive by some, and the device’s functionality itself was questioned as being superfluous. Yet it outsold and continues to outsell all other smartwatches in the world, and no other technology company has come close to overtaking it yet. If that’s not evidence of a man at the top of his game successfully designing — from hardware to software — an iconic product, then I don’t know what is.
Every Apple fan will have a favorite product designed by Jony Ive. Mine is the Apple Watch.
The design house future
Apple consulted seven horological experts on the Apple Watch, according to Ive himself in an interview with watch website Hodinkee, representing the first time Apple had sought outside advice on product design. Ive’s departure means this could be how many new Apple products are designed from now on, and evidence that it’s not cause for concern, not least because Ive is still going to be working with Apple in some capacity.
It was also the first joint project for Ive and Apple special projects designer Marc Newson. Newson is another designer many will not know, but his name is important, as Newson will also leave Apple to start the design house LoveFrom with Ive. Apple is going to be LoveFrom’s first client.
Newson already has an eclectic catalog of stunning designs, while Ive has yet to truly spread his designer wings outside of Apple. Whether they work together on Apple designs, technology, architecture, furniture, or watches together, it’s hard not to be excited over what LoveFrom will create in the near future.
If single designers struggle to gain wide public recognition, design houses are more successful, and the names often carry considerable cache. Porsche Design is an excellent example, forging a reputation for clean, symmetrical, classy designs that work across many fields and products. Pininfarina is another, with its name being synonymous with Ferrari, as well as on other car design classics like the Peugeot 205 CTi. LoveFrom is starting life with arguably one of the best known designers at the helm, and its first official client is Apple, one of the best known companies in the world.
Expectation is, as always with anything related to Apple and Ive, stratospheric.
It’s not good riddance to Jony Ive, it’s good luck and see you very soon.
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- Apple Watch Series 5 review: A smartwatch close to perfection