How Jony Ive's design passion made Apple what it is today

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 28
Jony Ive led the team that built the iPhone, but he also personally designed and built some of Apple's greatest products -- and it's through those that we can see the man behind the designer.

Jony Ive flanked by two of his most famous designs, the Apple Watch (left) and iPhone (right)
Jony Ive flanked by two of his most famous designs, the Apple Watch (left) and iPhone (right)


Fittingly for a man known to obsess with details, there is a symmetry to how Jony Ive is leaving Apple in the same way he joined it. He's now formed a small studio company which will have Apple as its client. But right back at the start of his career, he worked for a small studio company which had Apple as a client.

That company was a UK one called Tangerine and Ive joined it after graduating from Newcastle Polytechnic, now the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, but he didn't go there immediately. Instead, he spent some weeks in America, including meeting designer Robert Brunner and showing him a phone model he'd designed.






Ive returned to the UK and working for the startup Tangerine, while Brunner was hired by Apple. It's really Brunner who transformed Apple's design team that Ive would end up running. It was Brunner who recruited a consciously small team that included Ive from 1992.

Teamwork

It's easy to say that Jony Ive designed the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, and a dozen other incredibly important products -- and it's also true. However, it's not the complete story and the longer Ive was at Apple, the more the lines blurred between what he thought of and what he and his team did.

However, there are certain products and specific parts of products that were definitely Ive's and, often, Ive's alone. Some are as small as you can get -- he pushed for stainless steel screws in the G4 Mac -- but others are much bigger.

They're even surprisingly bigger. According to Leander Kahney's absorbing biography of Jony Ive, the very first product he worked on was a redesign of the Newton MessagePad.

Redesigning the Newton

"The problem with the first Newton was that it didn't relate to people's everyday lives," Ive told Paul Kunkel, author of Appledesign: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group. "It didn't offer a metaphor that users could grasp."

It was the first example of Ive's focus on how products would actually be used. And the very first detail of that was the Newton MessagePad 100's lid. "It's the first thing you see and the first thing you interact with," he said. "Before you can turn the product on, you must first open the lid. I wanted that moment to be special."

This was also an example of his practicality -- he designed the new lid to fix the original Newton's problem that the lid blocked expansion cards -- and his awareness of global and cultural issues. To open the new MessagePad, you had to flip the lid up over over the top of the machine, like opening a spiral-bound paper notebook.

"Pushing the lid up and around the back was important because the action is not culturally specific," he continued. "Folding the lid to the side, like a book, created problems because people in Europe and the U.S. would want to open it on the left whereas people in Japan would want to open it on the right. To accommodate everyone, I decided the lid would have to open straight up."

Monitoring

This revamped MessagePad was a success in terms of design and use, but it didn't turn the Newton into a success. Although in 2013, one of Ive's prototypes sold on eBay for $1,350.

Prototype Newton MessagePad 110 designed by Jony Ive
Prototype Newton MessagePad 110 designed by Jony Ive


Around this time, in the early 1990s, Ive was also looking at the small details on larger products. He pushed for Apple to build monitors in a new way -- and he met resistance.

Changing manufacturing is expensive but Ive was persistent and mounted arguments that covered financial as well as technical and design issues. And eventually Apple agreed. From then on, it moved to a new system of making CRT monitors that let the same factories build them in different sizes and assemble them more efficiently.

So even this early in his career, even before Brunner left and Ive took over the Design Group, he was conscious of how products fitted with the manufacturing and the financial requirements of Apple.

And it seems he didn't like what he found. This was back when Apple was in ever-increasing trouble and had ever-decreasing money. Ive reportedly looked to leave the company on many different occasions.

Steve Jobs came back to the company following Apple's purchase of NeXT in 1996, and it was his meeting Ive that led to the iMac. There was just one other machine to design first.

Twentieth Anniversary Mac

The Twentieth Anniversary Mac was Jony Ive's design. It began with Brunner proposing what he called Project Pomona, a proposal for a Mac that would shed the CRT monitor in favor of a PowerBook-like flat screen.

All of Apple's design group designers worked to design something to fit Project Pomona, and so did some external firms. The one that won was originally jointly proposed by Jony Ive and Danielle De Iuliiss, who is best known now for the Mac Color Classic from 1993.

Ive and De Iuliiss called their idea the "Domesticated Mac," and it was specifically meant to change computers from a business tool to one for everybody.






The result was a radical new Mac which looked fantastic, which still has a touch of modernity about it today, but which proved to be a misstep. The vertical design looked great but introduced physical and technical problems. And the price meant few would ever be sold.

That did lead, however, to the notions that lay behind the original iMac. There was certainly an intention to make a more affordable Mac. But there was also the sense that Apple should let the engineering technology work alongside the design, rather than have either side try to dominate the other.

Enter the iMac

Today it's easy to see that it was the iPhone and, before that, the iPod which propelled Apple into the extraordinary success it is. However, it was the iMac that made all of this possible. It was the iMac that turned Apple around. And it was the iMac that Jony Ive designed.

This is where it starts to get very fuzzy over who did what, though. While it's known that the iMac was Ive's creation, we also know that it was Steve Jobs who wanted to shed the floppy drive. We know that the egg-like shape of the original iMac was the idea of Apple designer Doug Satzger.






However, Ive says it was he who put the computer's ports on the side instead of around the back. And, while we now wouldn't exactly regard this as his best work, it was Ive who designed that iMac's round, hockey puck-shaped transparent mouse.

Exit the iMac

That original bulbous iMac was revolutionary and it, plus the similarly-designed iBook that followed, were ignition for Apple as we now know it, Ive didn't leave them alone. Neither he nor his design team just carried on iterating new colors and faster specifications for future models of the iMac.

Instead, they ditched the entire design as apparently readily as they would later kill off immensely popular iPod models in favor of ones they believed were better.

In this case, Ive was reportedly in Jobs's garden when he saw a sunflower. Maybe that's too simple a story to be true, but he did replace the iMac with the swivel-screen, flat-display model.






It was an example of Ive's willingness to move on. Not only did he ditch the astoundingly successful original iMac's design, but he was even ditching his own CRT monitor designs that he had initially had to fight Apple to make.

That was in 2002, and in 2003, he was back looking at lids. This is one of the last times that we can precisely credit a design feature to Ive alone, and it was to do with the lid of the 17in Titanium PowerBook G4.

He designed the internal frame of the whole machine and created the new mechanism that meant you could open the lid of this enormous machine one-handed.

And the rest

By 2004, Ive was leading a team that was building yet another complete revision of the iMac. He was leading a team that was working on what would eventually become the iPad -- and he lead the team that first turned that into the iPhone.

Away from Apple, he was designing for charity as an individual. By 2013, he was designing a Leica camera and his one-off model sold for a world-record price.

Significantly, Ive also designed a Jaeger-LeCoultre sports watch.

Apple Watch out

The Apple Watch is unquestionably the work of the company's entire design team, but Ive not only led it, he was far more of a watch fan than, say, Tim Cook or even Steve Jobs.

It appears that he pushed for the expensive, fashionable models of the Watch which Apple later dropped, however.

Jony Ive didn't present Apple products on stage but he regularly extolled them in the ads
Jony Ive didn't present Apple products on stage but he regularly extolled them in the ads


And as news of his leaving Apple came out, so did details of other design work that hadn't flown at the company.

Apart from perhaps that original Newton MessagePad 110, there has not been a single Apple product that Ive worked on which did not go through many iterations. Not one that didn't have false starts. And we could presume that there were many which were abandoned.

Now we know that for sure.

The future is history

Reportedly, Steve Jobs was not kidding when he told his biographer that Apple had cracked the problem of making television sets better and far less complex.

Jony Ive and his team not only designed an actual TV set, as opposed to the Apple TV set top box, but they had one built.

It never shipped. And, so far, neither has Ive's idea for a self-driving car that featured no steering wheel.

Maybe Ive will continue to contribute to Apple's Project Titan car work from his new company. Certainly, he's expected to be involved with Apple for years to come.

His handiwork is also going to shape the company because most of Apple's senior staff and certainly its design group, is now based in the Apple Park campus that he designed.

Apple Park is presumably the last major project Ive did for Apple, and it was also the last one that Steve Jobs worked on. The two created it, the two were the passionate forces behind it, and in 2015 Ive even stepped away from his other design roles to concentrate on Apple Park.

He later resumed his previous position, but in retrospect, perhaps this was also Apple and Ive beginning the process of handing over the design team to a new regime.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 37
    hypoluxahypoluxa Posts: 657member
    Glad to see he'll still be working with Apple with his new company. I imagine all the designers under his leadership at Apple have all gleaned some knowlege from him to help with future products. Good for him!
    StrangeDaysnot_antonseanjwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 37
    BobForsbergBobForsberg Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    Hopefully, Jony Ive's obsession with ever-thinner devices will go with him and allow future products to have larger batteries and better cooling.
    rain22napoleon_phoneapartElCapitanAI_liasberndogpscooter63rcfawilliamhkiowavt
  • Reply 3 of 37
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,778member
    Hopefully, Jony Ive's obsession with ever-thinner devices will go with him and allow future products to have larger batteries and better cooling.
    Nah. Apple products have remarkable cooling and do so very quietly. What you're asking for is a machine like the work Dell notebook sitting on my desk -- it constantly blows its fans even while completely idle. Sounds like a hair dryer. Garbage... Apple will not sell you that. Plenty of other places you can pick up garbage tho, so it's not a problem.

    Designing for thinner devices is also how we push the envelop for the what's possible, and get the form-factors of the future. Without learning how to make thinner devices there would be no Watch, for example. 

    And then theres the practical matter of thinner notebooks being lighter and easier to tote. I wouldn't trade my thin MBP for a bulkier machine at all. It's a portable, after all.
    edited June 28 macplusplustmaynot_anton1983AppleExposedpscooter63jas99genovelleseanjwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 37
    jdwjdw Posts: 800member
    Thanks for your passion, Jony, but now it's time for Apple to Think Different.
    rain22napoleon_phoneapartDAalsethpscooter63kiowavt
  • Reply 5 of 37
    rain22rain22 Posts: 47member
    jdw said:
    Thanks for your passion, Jony, but now it's time for Apple to Think Different.
    This. 
    I think Ives was more form over function the last 10 years... appropriate his company name is LoveForm. 
    Here is hoping for some 'function' back at Apple. 
    Fix the MacBooks so people want them again. 
    edited June 28 AI_liasnapoleon_phoneapartkiowavt
  • Reply 6 of 37
    "In this case, Ive was reportedly in Jobs's garden when he saw a sunflower. Maybe that's too simple a story to be true, but he did replace the iMac with the swivel-screen, flat-display model."

    He must have been in Jobs's bathroom looking at the toilet seat when he came up with the design for the original iBook...
    rain22AI_lias
  • Reply 7 of 37
    ralphieralphie Posts: 14member
    hypoluxa said:
    Glad to see he'll still be working with Apple with his new company.
    He won’t be, that was just PR spin to appease Wall Street. Once he’s out the door, he’s dead to Apple, and good riddance. He’s been phoning-it-in far too long. Just the face of design, not the real brains for 5+ years. Fresh ideas are long overdue. 
    edited June 28 Arszy
  • Reply 8 of 37
    19831983 Posts: 1,199member
    End of an era, and a little sadder for it. 
    AppleExposedseanjwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 37
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,672unconfirmed, member
    rain22 said:
    jdw said:
    Thanks for your passion, Jony, but now it's time for Apple to Think Different.
    This. 
    I think Ives was more form over function the last 10 years... appropriate his company name is LoveForm. 
    Here is hoping for some 'function' back at Apple. 
    Fix the MacBooks so people want them again. 
    LoveFrom
    StrangeDaysseanj
  • Reply 10 of 37
    I'm not clear from the article, what part of the iPod did Ive design ? I think the iPod+iTunes was instrumental in Apple's turn of fortune. It made a lot of people aware of Apple again when they were looking elsewhere for compute needs. To me it was the click wheel that was revolutionary (pun intended) design concept on that device. Until today I thought Ive was responsible for it but a quick check on Wikipedia informs me Schiller came up with the idea. Does anyone know what he contributed ? He certainly has an eye for elegance but from my perspective it has been hit and miss. I consider the Newton my worst "recognized brand name" tech purchase ever. It was an absolutely horrible device for lefties.Something that carries over to other devices built by Apple (all the ports on the same side on the macbook can force wires to the mouse side). 
  • Reply 11 of 37
    "He must have been in Jobs's bathroom looking at the toilet seat when he came up with the design for the original iBook...
    It makes more sense if you know the history of the eMate 300.
    macpluspluswatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 37
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 763member
    He has done some great work, but as others have suggested, he's not been at his peak for a few years now. But then Salvadore Dali got a bit repetitive toward the end. Picasso's last few works don't stand up to his earlier stuff.

    A lot of the same people will be working on the design of Apple products, but they will not have Ive's presence and vision looming over them. I hope this means that they can break out on their own. Come up with a new direction for Apple's hardware and software. 

    Ive was great, but it was time for him and Apple to move on.
  • Reply 13 of 37
    berndogberndog Posts: 90member
    rain22 said:
    jdw said:
    Thanks for your passion, Jony, but now it's time for Apple to Think Different.
    This. 
    I think Ives was more form over function the last 10 years... appropriate his company name is LoveForm. 
    Here is hoping for some 'function' back at Apple. 
    Fix the MacBooks so people want them again. 
    Touch screen “Hello”!
    I can wipe off my fingerprints whenever I want to. If you want the dead screen version you can get a discount....
  • Reply 14 of 37
    lmaclmac Posts: 196member
    Jony will continue to work with Apple, but it will require a special adapter.
    JustSomeGuy1
  • Reply 15 of 37
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,518member
    ralphie said:
    hypoluxa said:
    Glad to see he'll still be working with Apple with his new company.
    He won’t be, that was just PR spin to appease Wall Street. Once he’s out the door, he’s dead to Apple, and good riddance. He’s been phoning-it-in far too long. Just the face of design, not the real brains for 5+ years. Fresh ideas are long overdue. 
    Utter bullshit.


    AppleExposedmacplusplusdewmefastasleepStrangeDaysseanjwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 37
    irelandireland Posts: 17,684member
    He’ll no longer be employed by Apple, but it’s not difficult to imagine he’ll be submitting many Apple Car designs, ideas, advice and criticisms to them. I’ve is big into cars, and he’s not going to see Apple drive one onto a stage by 2025, without significant personal sweat, tears; involvement.
    edited June 28 seanjwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 37
    irelandireland Posts: 17,684member
    lmac said:
    Jony will continue to work with Apple, but it will require a special adapter.
    He’ll commute to dongletown. 
  • Reply 18 of 37
    irelandireland Posts: 17,684member
    razmataz said:
    I'm not clear from the article, what part of the iPod did Ive design ? I think the iPod+iTunes was instrumental in Apple's turn of fortune. It made a lot of people aware of Apple again when they were looking elsewhere for compute needs. To me it was the click wheel that was revolutionary (pun intended) design concept on that device. Until today I thought Ive was responsible for it but a quick check on Wikipedia informs me Schiller came up with the idea. Does anyone know what he contributed ? He certainly has an eye for elegance but from my perspective it has been hit and miss. I consider the Newton my worst "recognized brand name" tech purchase ever. It was an absolutely horrible device for lefties.Something that carries over to other devices built by Apple (all the ports on the same side on the macbook can force wires to the mouse side). 
    Schiller stole the idea from his stereo.
  • Reply 19 of 37
    sumergosumergo Posts: 208member
    rain22 said:
    jdw said:
    Thanks for your passion, Jony, but now it's time for Apple to Think Different.
    This. 
    I think Ives was more form over function the last 10 years... appropriate his company name is LoveForm. 
    Here is hoping for some 'function' back at Apple. 
    Fix the MacBooks so people want them again. 
    Agreed.
    Ives is an Industrial Designer - a hardware designer whose only focus/understanding is mechanical/engineering form . . .
    He is not a software designer and has never shown any comprehension of what it means in usability/UX terms to try to be an actual user of his products.
    It can't be worse now he's gone.

  • Reply 20 of 37
    tzeshantzeshan Posts: 2,046member
    He is leaving because there is no revolutionary new product in the pipeline for the next several years. 
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