Chief design officer Jony Ive is leaving Apple and although he’ll still have a design impact at Apple as a contractor, it’s certainly the end of an era. We’re just hoping Apple still gets him to do those iconic product videos, some of which we’ve presented for you below.
Ive’s involvement in the design of Apple’s HQ Apple Park could well have given him the taste to move beyond designing tech (just don’t mention the monitor stand).
It’s, of course, important to say that Apple has made several design missteps during Ive’s tenure. Who could forget the Apple Magic Mouse 2 that you can’t use while it’s charging. The iPhone battery cases are horrid compared to third-party designs. And Apple’s current MacBook keyboard woes are a case where design has erroneously trumped usability.
Also, it’s worth noting that the next generation of great tech product design may swing more to products that can be easily repaired or upgraded as concern for the environment grows – that’s not something Apple has been known for over the last few years.
Anyway, we couldn’t let this moment pass without looking at a bunch of Ive’s most iconic designs at Apple. And you can check out what we learned about the genesis of the iPhone from attending Ive’s Cambridge Union speech last year.
It’s also worth hearing Ive talk about his career and design team in the above video, released alongside Apple’s hardback coffee table book (yes, an actual book) of product shots in 2016. He said of his design team: “We’ve worked together for 20-25 years. One of the things we’ve learnt is the importance of listening because as we all know the best ideas can very often come from the quietest voice.
And on ambition? “We have really made it a practice to just have our heads down and work and ignore the reasons why something shouldn’t be possible. As designers, we live in the future. It’s not that we’re not interested in the work we’ve done before, we’re just so consumed by what we haven’t done yet.”
Jony Ive's most iconic Apple designs
Forget Antennagate. Forget that the iPhone 5 introduced 4G LTE and Lightning and was thinner, lighter and taller. The iPhone 4 is the best iPhone design hands-down. While the original iPhone was expensive, the iPhone 3G was plasticky. So what next? Instead Apple doubled-down on style with a distinctive ‘metal band’ design that looked very premium but sold in droves. Aside from the product video above, you can read much more about Ive’s thoughts on the iPhone 4’s design over at Core 77 who he told: "Those three black splits are co-molded in, and then the band goes through more processes. So it's assembled first, the band, and then the final machining and grinding are performed, so the tolerances are extraordinary... I can say that the manufacturing tolerances are phenomenal. And we determined this, we designed it from the very beginning to meet those goals."
We’ve written about how we love the iconic iMac G3 elsewhere on the site, but what’s phenomenal about this computer is not necessarily the external unmistakable design, but how everything is packaged internally. We have actually taken one of these completely apart (for a book project, don’t ask) and it’s remarkable how everything fits in around the huge, heavy CRT. The translucent coloured polycarbonate certainly made it stand out – while Macs appealed to education and design for much of the 1990s, the G3 took things back to mass-market ambitions. And, of course, there was what would become an Apple trademark – binning a feature its users still thought they needed but actually didn’t. Goodbye floppy disks, hello USB.
Apple Watch Series 1
Although the far-more-useful Series 2 really started to propel the Apple Watch to stardom, the Series 1 (as it wasn’t called then) nailed the now-ubiquitous Watch design right out of the gate. Again a hugely disruptive product when compared to smartwatches previously, the Apple Watch was something we didn’t think we needed but many have come to love. In a hugely pretentiously-written but hugely detailed interview from watch title Hodinkee, it was revealed that Steve Jobs and Ive didn’t discuss making a watch and that the first talk about making a watch was in 2012.
Also, in quite a departure for Apple, Ive admitted that the company had enlisted a team of watchmaking experts to advise on the project. “Everything we did was in the pursuit of what we thought was the best solution,” said Ive. “For example, the crown – if you take your phone and place it in your hand, you have a datum with your thumb, holding it in place against your opposing fingers. The watch on your wrist doesn’t have that, and we found that as you moved your arm around, the several years of developing principal forms of interaction for the phone and iPad was only a partial solution for this product.”
The first iPad
Others had struggled with tablets big time. You’d need many books to document Microsoft’s travails with Windows tablets pre-Surface. But then Apple blew us away with a long-rumoured tablet days after we distinctly remember telling a former boss “has no chance of being called the iPad because it’s such a stupid name”. We know from Steve Jobs’ appearance at the All Things Digital conference in 2010 that Apple had started work on a tablet even before it had decided to do the iPhone, but when it became evident that Apple could build a phone with the same tech, Jobs said Apple “put the tablet aside”. In the product video above Ive says that “this is a new category but yet millions upon millions of people are going to be familiar with it…they’re going to know how to use it”. So very true.
The original iPod
Although few of us could have predicted the iPod’s decline at the height of its powers in the mid-2000s, it’s important to remember just how disruptive this device was. Key to this was the ethos behind the device, embodied by the iPod white that has endured for Apple headphones, of course. Indeed, it’s very much the concept that was on sale here – after all the specifics of this device were quickly replaced. The redesigned clickwheel improved on this design in fairly short order. Steve Jobs hailed the iPod as “a major breakthrough” at launch and it’s hard to disagree. "It could have been shaped like a banana if we'd wanted," Ive told The Guardian. "Making the solution seem so completely inevitable and obvious, so uncontrived and natural – it's so hard!"
The MacBook Air
It’s really difficult to pick out a portable Mac, because there are so many we love – the 12-inch PowerBook is one of the best Macs ever, for example. However, you can’t look beyond the time that Steve Jobs pulled the MacBook Air out of a mailing envelope (at about 3 minutes in the above video). At that point, laptops were in a bit of a rut, but Apple had produced a device that was so thin it needed a custom Intel Core CPU. The reveal was absolutely mind-blowing, in the same way that the original iPhone reveal had been a year earlier. 11 years later, the Air’s iconic wedge design remains in use of course, albeit evolved, and thin-and-light laptops are still compared to it. That’s some tribute.
We absolutely love our AirPods. Is there a better tribute to a great product? In the launch video, Ive said “we’re just at the beginning of a truly wireless future where technology enables the seamless connection between you and your devices." Indeed, AirPods 'just work' and are brilliantly designed. They do have a flaw though – they make you look silly, though their ubiquity is making them seem more ‘normal’. As Apple’s Phil Shiller noted when I interviewed him in 2017, “I love when customers respond that one of their favourite product is something this simple, and yet so much work went into it.”