Jony Ive is leaving Apple as Surface reported yesterday. As said, his 27-year tenure at the electronics giant has left a footprint—some would say a shadow—not only on the company, but on the larger fields of product, industrial, graphic, software, retail, and experiential design, as well as society at large.
Yes, it was an army of thousands of designers, engineers, programmers, artists, architects, strategists, technologists, and creatives of all stripes that actually executed the products, programs, and visuals that drove Apple to new economic and cultural heights. Still, it was unquestionably Ive’s long stand as design principal there that enabled and drove the look of everything that army created from the late ’90s on. Here below are the highlights of that era, each of them an indelible part of Apple and design history.
This, Ive’s first true great success at Apple, looks perhaps overly ostentatious by modern standards. Yet, it was the iMac and its stunning, disruptive design that reset the idea of what a personal computer should look and feel like, beginning a new era of success for what was then a floundering company and ushering a more intimate, humane relationship with hardware. Iterations have included perky and now swivel-arm screens, white rectangles, and the desktop you may be reading this on right now. The approach eventually bled out into moregorgeousproducts and a series of laptops both beautiful and, uh, interesting, all of which have redefined that market and our understanding of portable computing.
As much as the iMac was a relaunch for Apple, this creation—flywheel and all—redefined it as a consumer electronics company and not just a computer maker. It also marked the beginning of a revolution that saw high design and high tech move from the desktop into the pocket, setting the stage for a culture now dominated by beautifully rendered tech objects that lie next to the body. Note the quantum leap in the visual appearance of chords, earphones, and accessories. No longer plain black wires, such utilities became as much expressions of Apple aesthetics as the main products themselves under Ive’s tenure.
Apple Packaging, mid-90s on
Far less important, but no less intelligent, were the changes Ive helped drive in Apple’s packaging strategies. Using a striking minimalism, the company adopted an approach that emphasized quality and experience. Thanks to a massive amount of forethought and research, the in-house design team was able to turn the action of taking a product out of its packaging into a narrative–centric experience worthy not only of filming, but of watching second hand. So influential was this shift, that not only has it created a highly profitable video genre, but products that are specifically made for that genre.
Apple Stores, 2001 on
Computer stores—even the good ones—were once a series of beige units arranged haphazardly on shelves. Sometimes they were running and connected to monitors. Often they were not. Under Ive and Steve Jobs, Apple stores from Soho to Singapore have not only changed what we expect from an in-store retail experience in terms of service, convenience, and order, but altered main-street architecture forever. One cannot look at the inspirational glass cube Apple put alongside Fifth Avenue and go back.
Apple Identity, mid-90s on
Ive was among the many designers who helped move Apple beyond its initially rainbow-colored identity to something both more minimal and more malleable. With a simple white logo and a pivot to black or white visual space, Apple not only matured into a sleek (and, yes, sometimes darkly monolithic) entity, but one that could transcend boundaries and borders. The iPod ad above is representative of the possibilities for play this opened up. The Apple website is an example of how seamless (if stolid) it can be. In time, Apple’s identity would change the very visual language of the entire capitalist world.
And here, Ive and Apple’s experience with the iMac, iPhone, the failed Newton (which he worked on), and a lifetime of visually driven software interfaces combined to create the object of our time. Sleek, propulsive design, wonderfully rendered apps, and a revolution in functionality came together in a product that has helped define our era in ways that we are only beginning to understand. Ushering in its own category of products, the iPhone has changed our physical gestures, our relationship with technology, and our very perception of the world around us, making it by far the most influential product Ive had a hand in creating.