Is Apple better without Jony?

From Alex Webb’s “Apple’s Product Design Has Improved Since Jony Ive Left” posted Tuesday by Bloomberg:

At one time, even broaching the idea would have been sacrilegious. But here goes: might Apple Inc.’s product design have improved since the departure of Jony Ive?

The Apple of today would not exist without Ive. He was the creative leviathan behind the look of the iMac, iPod, iPad and, most significantly, the iPhone. Apple’s design-led approach to product development was considered pioneering. But there was often a tension between form and function: whether a device’s appearance took precedence over its ease of use.

There was a sense that, without the moderating influence of the late Steve Jobs, perhaps Ive started to prioritize aesthetics a little too much. Since he stepped down as chief designer at the end of 2019, Apple seems to have reemphasized function. From the iPhone to Apple TV to the Macbook, gone are the days of “The user be damned, we think this looks cool.”

Monday’s unveiling of a new Macbook Pro lineup of laptops provides evidence of the shift. Headline features released five years ago under Ive’s aegis have been scrapped. Gone is the so-called “butterfly” keyboard, which rendered the device thinner but whose clunky mechanics made typing more difficult; farewell too to the Touch Bar, a touch sensitive strip display along the top of the keyboard which could show functions for the web browser one moment and mixing tools for music apps the next, but was almost impossible to use without looking; back are HDMI ports, which let you plug the computer into high-definition displays without using an adapter…

Dieter Rams, a significant influence on Ive, compiled 10 principles for “Good Design.” Number three was “good design is aesthetic”. Apple seems to have remembered numbers two and four: “good design makes a product useful” and “good design makes a product understandable”.

My take: Dieter Rams’ 10 principles bear repeating…

  1. Good design is innovative
  2. Good design makes a product useful
  3. Good design is aesthetic
  4. Good design makes a product understandable
  5. Good design is unobtrusive
  6. Good design is honest
  7. Good design is long-lasting
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
  10. Good design is as little design as possible

For more on Rams, click here.

18 Comments

  1. Romeo A Esparrago Jr said:
    Good design is like a box of chocolates?

    3
    October 20, 2021
  2. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    I think this is the wrong question to ask or at least the wrong vantage point to view Apple today. Jony Ive’s design “fingerprints” will be on Apple’s products for years to come. There’s no diminishing his huge role in Apple’s success over the years. The fact that the design team in place today is willing to take different approaches in the development and design of products is actually a testament to his influence. He left behind an extraordinary team that worked closely with him through the years and they are not afraid to “Think different.” That’s a powerful and positive legacy for Mr. Ive.

    8
    October 20, 2021
  3. Alessandro Luethi said:
    Where would Apple be now, without Jony Ive?

    2
    October 20, 2021
  4. Fred Stein said:
    Agreeing with RPL and Alessandro.

    Lets celebrate Sir Jony’s contributions. Let’s thank Steve Jobs and Tim Cook for Apple’s relentless pursuit of excellence, fearlessly challenging every idea – nothing is sacrosanct.

    8
    October 20, 2021
  5. Gregg Thurman said:
    Upvoted all of the above. At some point one aspect of design should prevail over the other. I think that line in the sand was crossed in 2018.

    Now the question becomes, when will the line between aesthetics and function be redrawn?

    0
    October 20, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      That’s actually an interesting question, which depends a lot on the evolution of human factors. If there’s a credible alternative to typing for the production of the written word -at speed-, that could cause a significant change. Similar, an evolution of display could make things change. But until there’s a better way for me (who was trained as a touch typist in high school 50 years ago) to compose pages of text content, I’m not sure I see a lot of motivation for changes in basic computer interaction.

      0
      October 20, 2021
      • David Emery said:
        But in fairness, I might be considered a Tech Luddite. (1) I have no use for email or anything else requiring typing on a phone. (I was offered a Blackberry back in 2002, turned that down flat and have NEVER regretted that decision.) (2) I have no interest in talking to my computer, either. (Never tried Siri, never enabled it even on my HomePod, which I use just as a network speaker/AirPlay target.)

        0
        October 20, 2021
  6. Gary Gouriluk said:
    Steve valued form but only after function was easy and intuitive. Jony put form a little too high on the list but made things beautiful. Like Lennon and McCartney, great alone but ethereal together.

    5
    October 20, 2021
  7. John Konopka said:
    It might have been Gruber who opined that it was time for Jony to leave when he did. Earlier on Apple needed a lot of good design. Think of the Bondi Blue iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, etc.

    Now the products have shrunk to the point of disappearing. The iPad and iPhone have been reduced to little more than slabs of glass. We make a big deal out of how round the corners are. There is not much material left to shape. Even the iMac is little more than a large iPad on a stand.

    I agree with the others that Jony without Steve made Apple a little unbalanced.

    2
    October 20, 2021
  8. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    “Good design makes a product useful”

    “Good design makes a product understandable”

    “Good design is unobtrusive”

    “Good design is innovative”

    The four corners of the Apple design aesthetic box.

    True design harmony comes when these four principles are equidistant. A tough balance for any company.

    2
    October 20, 2021
  9. Jerry Doyle said:
    Product design would have improved if Jony remained with Apple.

    Jony remained reverent throughout his Apple tenure to his minimalist principle that designers should design only what is needed. As much as I appreciate deeply my iPhone 13 Pro, it is little less than a modest, chunky brick in my hands compared with the previous iPhone X Pro and the iPhone 6 Max; which were solid thin layers.

    It is becoming apparent that the current Apple Industrial Designer Team is moving in the direction of serving what the hardware team demands and wants. We see this in the evolutionary design iterations from year-to-year instead of Jony’s bold and innovative interaction in design culture.

    Apple today is losing its signature style present during Jony’s tenure. What signature design styles we see today are continued iterations and replications of Jony’s introductions & legacy. Apple current design styles are moving gradually away from Jony’s aesthetic toward minimalism and skipping toward excess, which is confirmation that Apple’s internal culture heavily favors the engineers within various product groups.

    Steve promoted Jony to senior VP of ID, elevating Jony to the same level as Hardware Engineering. Today we know, see and hear from Johny Srouji and John Ternus; but where do we see, hear or know of Evans Hankey?? That speaks volumes.

    Where once, Jony was senior VP of ID, and then after Forestall’s firing, Jony was providing leadership & direction for Human Interface across the entire company in charge of the all-important product interfaces in both hardware & software (previously held by Steve Jobs). Today, that position is gone, eroded into an oblivion, a dark & deep void to where most do not even know who Evans Hankey is; let alone see and hear from him.

    1
    October 20, 2021
  10. Gregg Thurman said:
    One thing I think we are all missing: design isn’t jest making some useful, functional and attractive.. it is also about making all those disparate components fit together and ease of assembly.

    Any remember trying to add memory to the Mac II? It was a bitch tearing the chassis down in order to get to the memory, and then you had to put it together again. Required as much muscle as it did anything else. That was before Ives and was a mess internally.

    2
    October 20, 2021
  11. David Drinkwater said:
    Having read all the comments and chiming in a day late, I conclude with my preprogrammed response:

    “You, sir (Alex Webb), are no (Sir) Jony Ive.”

    I don’t think Apple’s ID has radically changed with Ive’s departure.

    I’ve heard laments about the butterfly keyboard. I think my MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) should have one. I’ve not really had problems with it.

    I’ve heard laments about the TouchBar. I don’t mind it. I don’t use it much, but I don’t mind it. I still things is belongs in the aluminum strip below the hinge, with a full row of hard plastic function keys, because old skoolers have hardwired reflexes. There is room for both.

    I still don’t understand why the 2021 Pros don’t have cellular capability. That is, in my opinion, a hard fail for 2021.

    0
    October 22, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      Re: MacBook cellular capability, since most Mac owners will have an iPhone, better to use the iPhone as a tethered hotspot rather than add a potential redundant modem functionality and additional antenna to the WiFi transceiver?

      0
      October 22, 2021

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