Apple's best designs by Jony Ive, according to the AppleInsider staff

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 29
On Thursday, Apple Chief Design Officer Jony Ive announced his intent to leave the company after nearly 30 years on the job, many of which were spent at the side of tech visionary Steve Jobs. In wake of that bombshell, AppleInsider takes a look back at our favorite Ive designs.


Mikey Cambell - iPhone X

iPhone X

iPhone X


In development for more than two years, iPhone X is perhaps the purest expression of Apple's -- and Ive's -- vision of how a smartphone should look and feel.

A glass and metal slab reminiscent of the black monolith in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (albeit with gently sloping corners), X blurred the line between utility device and art object more than any iPhone that came before. A sleek rectangular chassis closely follows the form of its dormant OLED panel, which remains inky black thanks to the deletion of all screen-bound manual controls. Without close inspection of the mirrored Apple logo and "iPhone" lettering set under its glass back, X's orientation can only be divined by its camera bump.

Nothing seems wasted on iPhone X. Inside, vital components are neatly laid out on a -- dare I say beautiful -- logic board, battery cells are custom-fit and the level of fit and finish is peerless. Outside, the screen stretches from corner to rounded corner with a relatively thin bezel and the steel chassis feels almost sumptuous in the hand. The TrueDepth notch is, of course, a niggle, but an acceptable trade off for Face ID.

2018 Apple Pencil




Ridiculous Lightning connector swapped for inductive charging. A flat edge for mating with iPad Pro that also serves as a nice ergonomic grip (and stop Pencil from rolling off the table). Tap gestures. Velvety low-slip matte finish. This is what the first Apple Pencil should have been.

Amber Neely - The current MacBook Air

I still remember the original MacBook Air commercial from the original launch event, where it slid out of a manila envelope with a button-and-string enclosure. As an owner of an incredibly thick PC laptop, I was immediately enamored. The concept of even an entry-level notebook being that thin was wild to me.

Fast-forward to today. The MacBook Air has so far eluded me, but I do appreciate the quality and thought behind the design. In fact, I probably appreciate it more these days. It's the one Apple product that gets my head turning every single time I see one.

Apple's gold MacBook Air
Apple's gold MacBook Air


Just look the current generation MacBook Air. It's thin, it's light, and aesthetically, it's got a gorgeous design. The gentle taper from the front to the back gives it a luxe profile, an effect that is only increased when you realize that Apple had the foresight to start offering the Air in gold. I've owned computers with some decent looking cases, but I've definitely never owned something that looked as good as a gold MacBook Air.

Aesthetically, it's hard to imagine how Apple could improve upon the Air. To this day, I still find myself swooning over every gold Air I see in the wild.

William Gallagher - The door on the Power Mac 9600 and iOS 7

Design is not about how something looks, it's about how it does what it does -- and how people can use it to do what they need. And that's only rarely as visually striking as, for instance, a gorgeous iPhone. So my favorite Jony Ive design is what he did with door panels.

We know that the forthcoming Mac Pro features extremely easy access to its insides and we remember that the famous Mac Pro, the first cheese grater, had that panel that could open up very simply. What's less known is that this was because of Ive.

He thought of it and he fought for it. Ive had to convince Apple hardware engineers that it was worth doing and that it could be cost-effective.

PowerMac 9600
PowerMac 9600


And he won. The 1997 Power Mac 9600 was the first Apple tower computer where you could easily open the side to add or remove components. The same basic design was used for the beige PowerMac G3 tower, and the design lineage carried through the Blue and White G3 and G4 towers was clear.

But, iOS 7 is just as great. When Scott Forstall was forced out of Apple and Jony Ive took over the running of software as well as hardware, the result was iOS 7.

Actually, the result was iOS 7 and then whatever the next version of Android was. The result was that smartphones changed overnight and you can see iOS 7's flattened aesthetic in graphic design used across the world.

2013's iOS 7 looks familiar today, but so different to iOS 6 and earlier
2013's iOS 7 looks familiar today, but so different to iOS 6 and earlier


What Ive did with software was what he always did with hardware. It's easy to say that he made things simpler, but he also came at it from the focus of how people would use it.

The previous skeuomorphic approach was meant to help people grasp how to use, say, a calendar on their phone. Now we knew, now we were more familiar with the phone version than we were with actual calendars. Ive could step away from this hand-holding tutorial kind of interface, and make a tool that worked better for us all.

We've now had the Ive-inspired flat design of iOS for six years, which is as long as the original lasted. But there's no sign of it changing again because there is no need for it to.

Malcolm Owen - Mac mini

As someone with a background in PC gaming and a habit of spending way too much time on PCPartpicker than should be deemed healthy, I have an interest in how a computer is assembled. This is particularly true for machines that are put together to take up as little space as possible, as aside from being a design headache to create and keep them usable, they also must be serviceable.

Given my disassembly of my own personal Mac mini earlier this year to replace the hard drive, I have to attest that the design of that pint-sized computing powerhouse is phenomenal. A rigid metal casing with so much crammed in there, including cooling, that somehow takes up less physical space than most non-Apple notebooks, is mind-boggling to begin with.

A partially disassembled 2014 Mac mini.
A partially disassembled 2014 Mac mini.


Then there's the disassembly, which is surprisingly straightforward despite the seemingly daunting task of extracting so much stuff from inside that tiny frame, with so many genius design choices to make it relatively painless. Even the use of the power socket as a form of "lock" to hold the rest of the power supply in place is an inspired piece of design.

As much as it still amazes that Apple has put a powerful computer into a slimline and barely noticeable case barely bigger than a few DVD boxes, seeing what Apple did to fit everything in and the process of disassembly and reassembly is probably more breathtaking.

Andrew O'Hara - Leica camera and iPod mini

As a photographer and videographer, it isn't much surprise that one of my favorite Ive designs isn't Apple's. It is the wonderful Leica Digital Rangefinder that was co-designed by Marc Newson, sold at the (RED) Auction back in 2013. The camera itself had a full-format CMOS sensor and shot through a Leica APO-Summicron -M 50mm f/2 lens.

Leica designed by Jony Ive and Marc Newson
Leica designed by Jony Ive and Marc Newson


Needless to say, the camera is primarily formed of Ive's material-of-choice -- anodized aluminum. It is covered in 21,000 circular perforations that make up the grip around the body and took more than 85 days to manufacture as well as over 550 prototypes. I love how minimalist and functional the camera is, how the design doesn't get in the way of the camera itself. It stays true to Leica but adds a bit of Apple finesse.

If Apple were to release a camera, this could easily be it. The attention to detail is simply unmatched and makes this one of the most lustworthy of Ive's designs that can't even be purchased.

Following the camera is the iPod mini. I absolutely love this device and still have a working model sitting atop my desk, full of my favorite music. The green is bright and fun without being overly loud. The aluminum design still holds up all these years later. The screen is small but with the simple UI controlled by the magical clickwheel, it doesn't feel like it.

iPod mini in green
iPod mini in green


Apple had a pile of accessories to go with the iPod mini, which is a time I very much miss. The quirky iPod Socks, the headphone remote, the simple plastic clip that made it easy to clip onto the side of a backpack, and eventually even the Hi-Fi. All were in my arsenal. I spent a lot of time using the Mini and even though the switch to flash storage caused the device to become usurped by the iPod nano, the Mini still holds a special place in my heart -- and my desk.

Victor Marks - Newton MessagePad and the last of the iMac G3 models

The Newton MessagePad is one of Jony Ive's best products, from a time when he had yet to meet Steve Jobs, and was questioning whether or not he even belonged at Apple.

The Newton MessagePad and stylus
The Newton MessagePad and stylus


Design takes depth, focus, and caring, Ive used to say. People are frustrated with their environment, and products that surround us should show that they've considered the user in their design. They should show caring on behalf of their makers.

With the MessagePad, the first version shipped without a cover for the display and a wide, flat stylus that felt like a carpenter's pencil, and was uncomfortable to use.

To change the user's relationship with the product, Ive made two notable changes: one, a cover for the screen, and the other, a metal and plastic weighted stylus, with the look and feel of a luxury pen. The cover created the feel of a stenographer's notebook, instantly making the design of the object communicate how you interact with it. The stylus showed care for the user by making the thing they touch and interact with feel like a luxury item.

Newton wasn't long for the world, and was discontinued when Steve Jobs returned to lead Apple, but the humble Newton would influence the Mac and iOS later, with Ink in early Mac OS X, and the obvious Apple Pencil comparisons. The Newton showed that everything is designed, and even the humblest objects should show the care and thoughtfulness behind them.

The iMac G3 Flower Power and iMac G3 Blue Dalmation
The iMac G3 Flower Power and iMac G3 Blue Dalmation


Feb. 22, 2001 marked the introduction of the Flower Power and Blue Dalmation iMac G3. Why did these machines exist for so short a period of time?

I suspect the reason was that the process for decorating the inside of the iMac proved that the process would work for the iPod that was going to be released months later, and allowed Apple to test on an existing product at production scale.

This model was short-lived, replaced by the Snow White, Graphite, and Indigo iMac G3, with only Snow surviving before being replaced by the iMac G4 LCD sunflower model.

Flower Power recalled the 1960s hippies, and Blue Dalmation dogs never existed. We're pretty sure it wasn't a popular color. We're even pretty sure it wasn't one of Ive's favorites. But it shows that design isn't always easy.

Motorola wasn't supplying faster G3 CPUs, and Apple had begun to source them from IBM. iMac G4 was almost a year away. There was pressure to release a new model. It allowed Apple to learn how to make a machine where no two would be the same, and make them reliably. It was looked down on by the press then and now.

But, it definitely broke the bright fruit color pattern that everyone else from kitchen accessories to DIY tools were copying. It paved the way for the iPod, and was the most distinctive computer that showed the industry followed Apple, not the other way around.

Mike Wuerthele - Original iPad

This one took me some thought. There are a load of big-time Ive-led inventions, and picking a favorite took forever. For sheer impact in this house alone, the iPad takes the cake.

For myriad reasons, the vast majority of documents that I had to read and assess through the '00s were provided on PDF. I purchased a heavy and thick Windows tablet with a stylus to do so more conveniently. It was heavier than any single book I had to read, but more compact than all of them combined.





When the iPad was announced in 2010, the game was changed. It wasn't just changed for me, but it gave the internet back to most of the senior citizens across my family.

Furthermore, in 2015, my wife had a stroke. All of a sudden, she went from being on her MacBook Air all the time, to being completely unable to use the keyboard on the machine. The iPad became a crucial part of her recovery and relaxation.

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it here. The iPad is, finally, Apple's computer for the rest of us. And, Apple's design for it made the entire concept possible, usable, and beautiful.
watto_cobra
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 47
    retrogustoretrogusto Posts: 726member
    Keeping in mind the context of what else was being done by other companies at the time of their release, I’d have to say my favorite designs are:

    the original iPod

    the original iMac

    original iPod Nano

    original MacBook Air

    G4 Cube

    Titanium PowerBook

    original iPhone

    iPhone 4

    iPhone 6
     


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 47
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,888member
    iPhone 5s/SE.
    mattinozJWSCwozwozcoolfactorcgWerksnot_antoncornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 47
    macseekermacseeker Posts: 445member
    What Apple device does DED think was great for design?
    AppleExposedJWSCwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 47
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,123member
    +1 upvote on MacBook Air. It's still the most comfortable and enjoyable to use computer that I've ever owned. Its design is timeless. After more than 11 years on the market it's still the archetype for the perfect notebook computer that every other personal computer strives to build but can never get quite right. Why? Because it's not just the hardware design. It's the perfect blend of lightweight and responsive hardware to match the lightweight and responsive macOS that's running on it. The Air's hardware design makes a lot of promises and the software helps it deliver on them. A MacBook Air running Windows 10 takes the whole thing down a few notches, kind of like putting a monkey brain in a perfect human form. 
    iqatedowozwozwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 47
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,380unconfirmed, member
    Original iPhone
    iPod nano 5th gen.
    Apple Park
    Apple Stores

    Other favorites:
    Siri Remote, Apple TV, Macbooks, New iMacs, Magic Mouse.

    Note: I'm assuming he designed Siri Remote, I can't find any credits for it.

  • Reply 6 of 47
    sumergosumergo Posts: 203member
    Hardware, Hardware, Hardware - all engineering physical form, no concept of usability/UX function.

    Sir Jony Ive is a brilliant industrial designer but he has never had a clue about what it takes to make his "wonderful" objects usable for humans.

    Don't listen to me - check out another authority: https://www.fastcompany.com/3053406/how-apple-is-giving-design-a-bad-name

    planetary paulnapoleon_phoneapartcolinngwilliamlondon
  • Reply 7 of 47
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,179member
    sumergo said:
    Hardware, Hardware, Hardware - all engineering physical form, no concept of usability/UX function.

    Sir Jony Ive is a brilliant industrial designer but he has never had a clue about what it takes to make his "wonderful" objects usable for humans.

    Don't listen to me - check out another authority: https://www.fastcompany.com/3053406/how-apple-is-giving-design-a-bad-name

    How I about I don't listen to either of you?
    AppleExposedmacguiStrangeDaysroundaboutnowchasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 47
    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the iMac G4.  The angle-poise display that seems to float in the air is an ergonomic dream, while the base with the CD drive that seems to poke out its tongue is both cute and beautiful.

    As an aside, I still have mine sitting away, it actually has a manufacturing fault where the silkscreened port icons on the back are in the wrong place, so it has the wrong emblem over the ports.

    I wonder if that makes it a valuable rarity :-)
    AppleExposedmattinozentropyswatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 47
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,179member
    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the iMac G4.  The angle-poise display that seems to float in the air is an ergonomic dream, while the base with the CD drive that seems to poke out its tongue is both cute and beautiful.

    As an aside, I still have mine sitting away, it actually has a manufacturing fault where the silkscreened port icons on the back are in the wrong place, so it has the wrong emblem over the ports.

    I wonder if that makes it a valuable rarity :-)
    1) It was talked about in another thread by commenters, including myself. I'm surprised it was neither mentioned nor shown in this article.

    2) I have still have mine and used it until 2014 as a "headless" Mac when I bought a Mac mini. Booting was much faster with the Mac mini but it otherwise felt unchanged for Screen Sharing and file access from my MBP for file access and iTunes and my Apple TV for streaming videos from the Computer app. I used Ethernet for 100 Mibps to my AirPort Extreme. My Apple TV is also wired (then 100 Mibps and now GigE). I bought a RAID to use with that iMac that offered FW400, USB 3.0, and several other connection options knowing I'd eventually move on from that 2001 iMac to a more modern Mac. I had to use FW400 on that iMac since USB was only 1.0 at a grueling 12 Mibps.

    3) I'll have to see if my ports are labeled correctly.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 47
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    Soli said:
    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the iMac G4.  The angle-poise display that seems to float in the air is an ergonomic dream, while the base with the CD drive that seems to poke out its tongue is both cute and beautiful.

    As an aside, I still have mine sitting away, it actually has a manufacturing fault where the silkscreened port icons on the back are in the wrong place, so it has the wrong emblem over the ports.

    I wonder if that makes it a valuable rarity :-)
    1) It was talked about in another thread by commenters, including myself. I'm surprised it was neither mentioned nor shown in this article.

    2) I have still have mine and used it until 2014 as a "headless" Mac when I bought a Mac mini. Booting was much faster with the Mac mini but it otherwise felt unchanged for Screen Sharing and file access from my MBP for file access and iTunes and my Apple TV for streaming videos from the Computer app. I used Ethernet for 100 Mibps to my AirPort Extreme. My Apple TV is also wired (then 100 Mibps and now GigE). I bought a RAID to use with that iMac that offered FW400, USB 3.0, and several other connection options knowing I'd eventually move on from that 2001 iMac to a more modern Mac. I had to use FW400 on that iMac since USB was only 1.0 at a grueling 12 Mibps.

    3) I'll have to see if my ports are labeled correctly.
    Because it is not any of our staffers' favorite Ive thing. It's not far from the top of any of our lists, but it does not top anybody's.
    edited June 29 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 47
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,179member
    Soli said:
    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the iMac G4.  The angle-poise display that seems to float in the air is an ergonomic dream, while the base with the CD drive that seems to poke out its tongue is both cute and beautiful.

    As an aside, I still have mine sitting away, it actually has a manufacturing fault where the silkscreened port icons on the back are in the wrong place, so it has the wrong emblem over the ports.

    I wonder if that makes it a valuable rarity :-)
    1) It was talked about in another thread by commenters, including myself. I'm surprised it was neither mentioned nor shown in this article.

    2) I have still have mine and used it until 2014 as a "headless" Mac when I bought a Mac mini. Booting was much faster with the Mac mini but it otherwise felt unchanged for Screen Sharing and file access from my MBP for file access and iTunes and my Apple TV for streaming videos from the Computer app. I used Ethernet for 100 Mibps to my AirPort Extreme. My Apple TV is also wired (then 100 Mibps and now GigE). I bought a RAID to use with that iMac that offered FW400, USB 3.0, and several other connection options knowing I'd eventually move on from that 2001 iMac to a more modern Mac. I had to use FW400 on that iMac since USB was only 1.0 at a grueling 12 Mibps.

    3) I'll have to see if my ports are labeled correctly.
    Because it is not any of our favorite Ive thing.
    Ah. Makes sense.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 47
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,380unconfirmed, member
    Must have been hard choosing only 2.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 47
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    Must have been hard choosing only 2.
    It was hard choosing one, which was the assignment. This is why a few of us did two.
    AppleExposedwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 47
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    I know we've had a lot of bickering on the forums as of late. I don't know why. 

    Regardless, dial it back.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 47
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,380unconfirmed, member
    Must have been hard choosing only 2.
    It was hard choosing one, which was the assignment. This is why a few of us did two.
    Oh damn. Must have been hard not cheating.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 47
    T.biasT.bias Posts: 1member
    I believe that, for its time, the iPhone X is not the most amazing iPhone ever created. As long as that notch exists, I will always consider the design to be subpar. I think that the person who put it forward fell for a classic pitfall associated with things of this nature: it is new and more up to date with current views and perceptions. This essentially side steps the work of examining all of Ive’s designs “in their own time”.
     
    With that in mind, why was there no mention of the iPhone 4/4S? IMHO, this design of Ive’s was far and away the best iPhone for its time. It was sold longer than any other iPhone, and for good reason; it is beautiful, sleek, and truly stands out from all other designs of the iPhone.
     
    Another I could consider would be the AirPods. They are exceptionally popular for a reason: They are so well designed that they integrate seemlesly into our lives. That is a good sign that something is designed to perfection. When something almost dissappears into the background because it is so slippery due to the lack of any issues for us to snag on, then you can tell the designer really nailed it!
     
    Lastly, I think the new Apple Pencil is definitely not one of Ive’s best designs ever. It is nice and a good update to the first Apple Pencil, but it doesn’t blow away things like the ground breaking first iPad, the TiBook, the iPhone 4/4S, etc. Again, it is just new and easy to see why it happens to shine in 2019.
     
    Cheers,
    T.bias
    wozwozwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 47
    I love Ive's hardware designs, but his UI efforts not so much. I think his interface design is pretty worthless, a classic in form over function. That has been straightened out a bit in iOS. But the tendency to make everything as meaningless grey as possible in Finder windows so that you can no longer recognize the icons at a glance and have to read the accompanying text, is in my opinion idiotic. I hope Apple will correct that too.
    edited June 29 napoleon_phoneapartwozwozentropyscgWerks
  • Reply 18 of 47
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,261member
    T.bias said:
    I believe that, for its time, the iPhone X is not the most amazing iPhone ever created. As long as that notch exists, I will always consider the design to be subpar. I think that the person who put it forward fell for a classic pitfall associated with things of this nature: it is new and more up to date with current views and perceptions. This essentially side steps the work of examining all of Ive’s designs “in their own time”.
     
    With that in mind, why was there no mention of the iPhone 4/4S? IMHO, this design of Ive’s was far and away the best iPhone for its time. It was sold longer than any other iPhone, and for good reason; it is beautiful, sleek, and truly stands out from all other designs of the iPhone.
    And yet, when the iPhone 4 leaks came out forum-goers across the web decried it ugly and unfinished looking — those ghastly visible screws! 

    The notch is fine. It is no more an obstruction in real use than a rear view mirror is on a windshield. Not a big deal except to idealists. The physical constraints of reality are still with us for now. 
    edited June 29 watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 47
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,179member
    T.bias said:
    I believe that, for its time, the iPhone X is not the most amazing iPhone ever created. As long as that notch exists, I will always consider the design to be subpar. I think that the person who put it forward fell for a classic pitfall associated with things of this nature: it is new and more up to date with current views and perceptions. This essentially side steps the work of examining all of Ive’s designs “in their own time”.
     
    With that in mind, why was there no mention of the iPhone 4/4S? IMHO, this design of Ive’s was far and away the best iPhone for its time. It was sold longer than any other iPhone, and for good reason; it is beautiful, sleek, and truly stands out from all other designs of the iPhone.
    And yet, when the iPhone 4 leaks came out forum-goers decried it ugly and unfinished looking — those ghastly visible screws! 

    The notch is fine. It is no more an obstruction in real use than a rear view mirror is on a windshield. Not a big deal except to idealists. The physical constraints of reality are still with us for now. 
    1) It’s odd that so many can’t see the benefit of having more display without having to compromise the forward-facing components. It’s a superior engineering feat that offers additional functionality, but they can’t see that.

    2) I remember the Gizmodo leaks. I am one of those people whose first reaction was that it was ugly. It wasn’t until we saw quality, non-blurry photos that I could see the brilliance of the design.
    edited June 29 roundaboutnowwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 47
    sumergo said:
    This article is a seminal critique and it will be used as landmark educational material for many, many generations to come.
    napoleon_phoneapartcgWerks
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