I love industrial design and have that for as long as I can remember. As a child, I broke my father's electric shaver with the dial that lifted and lowered the blades because the action was so cool and "clickable." At school I dreamed of being a product designer or architect.
Those dreams were overrun when I drew technically (I was more than 4 cm and the tolerance of the test was less than 0.5 cm) and I did not succeed in taking my physics and mathematics exams, both are crucial for designing beautiful buildings that don't fall down. So for the past 30 years, my inner industrial designer has been a deputy through the career of my contemporary (he's only a few years younger than me) and fellow Brit, Sir Jony Ive.
As a designer of industrial products, Ive made "cool". Stop someone on the street and ask them to name a famous industrial designer and I would take a gamble that if they have an answer, it would be Jony Ive.
Yes, there are many other influential industrial designers. Yves Béhar and Dieter Rams – who was greatly admired by Steve Jobs and the visionary behind so many Braun products (including my father's broken electric shaver) – both come to mind. That is what Marc Newson, a contemporary of Jony & # 39; s and a partner in his new company LoveForm, does. They are all legendary in the design community, but none have the name recognition or influence on the level of Ive.
Not only have Ive designed some of the most iconic Apple products made in the last 30 years – the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone to name just a few – the success of these products directly affects the lives of millions of people influenced and the way they view the importance of great industrial design as a result.
If you were to ask the question "if Jony Ive designed one (insert the product here)", then most people would be able to visualize exactly what that product would look like: minimal design, clean shape, functional usability and abundant use of aluminum. That is remarkable.
In addition, this appreciation for great product design has made it a core principle of the commercial success of every tech product in today's market. I would argue that the remarkable revival of Microsoft with the Surface under Satya Nadella is at least in part the result of his willingness to embrace the importance of design over sheer utility as a defining brand value of the company. That not only means that you are copying Apple: the Surface Studio and Surface Pro are beautifully designed in themselves and they are also unique Microsoft. The same can be said of the Pixelbook that is definitely Google, or even the Galaxy S10 Plus that is unmistakably Samsung (the Bixby button is giving away a dead person).
And the increasing value of great product design is not only limited to companies that work in the field of consumer technology. Back in 2006, when I photographed the interior of The brand new aircraft from Virgin America, I remember how often we compared the design language of the seats and lighting with Apple and Ive. Without Virgin America's mood lighting or 50 channels of entertainment, I doubt JetBlue would have followed so closely, let alone American Airlines. The same can be said of cars & # 39; s. Look at the interior of many cars in 2019 and I think you can clearly see hints of the influence of Ive.
Of course I am not saying that Jony Ive is directly responsible for a better experience during the flight or a more imaginative and functional car dashboard. But I say it is a consequence of Ive's indisputable influence that many companies now see good design as a much more essential part of their success than thirty years ago.
I am also not saying that everything I have ever made was great. During his time at Apple he also produced a number of real lemons (the Newton, the Cube, the "trashcan" MacPro and iOS 7 are discussed immediately). But that fallibility only makes me respect his biggest hits even more. At least he tried something different and new.
But while the broader and real acceptance of good industrial design practices has undoubtedly benefited both consumers and design fans, it is perhaps ironic that the only company that suffered the most was Apple (though not financially). This may explain Ive's departure.
As Buddy Pine says in the movie The unbelievable"If everyone is great, then nobody is." Thirty years ago, the design aesthetics and collaboration of Jony Ive with Steve Jobs made Apple's products stand head and shoulders above almost everything. They were really revolutionary. The iMac was a cheerful translucent blue, orange or magenta PC when the offer from any other computer manufacturer was a beige box; the iPod was beautifully sturdy with a practical, childish simplicity of operation that brought "a thousand songs in your pocket". And as for the first iPhone. Well, let me just say that in design, I believe it's still the best iPhone.
But in 2019, it is extremely difficult to maintain that level of change in game changes continuously. It is very difficult to lead from the front. Apple found it a challenge to encourage their user base to update to the relatively iterative new design of the iPhone X and XS. I am not surprised that it is careful to introduce something revolutionary. Apple is trapped in a pitfall: critics demand that Apple is the bold, brave brand that we are used to, but users think that's fine, as long as everything works the same. We are moving towards a post-hardware world where seamless functionality on multiple devices is vital and great design is considered a given.
For me personally, Apple's products no longer define milestones in my life as they once did. In recent years, those places have been occupied by products from Google, Nintendo and Sony. I have no doubt that the designers of all have somehow been influenced by Ive, but that doesn't mean that the only Apple products I own today are an old Apple TV and the laptop I got from The edge.
I abandoned Apple and look for new brands for design inspiration. Maybe Jony has decided to do the same.
Photography by James Bareham / The Verge