Jean-Louis Gassée: Misunderstanding design and Jony Ive’s role at Apple

Jean-Louis Gassée for Monday Note:

It’s sad to see the man who gave Apple such a signal design identity move on. But critics who sense doom now that Apple Design will report through Operations badly misunderstand what Design really means for an industrial company that manufactures hundreds of millions of devices.

Ive is a living representative of the relatively new lineage of industrial designers, of artists and engineers who understand that to design a product means taking care of the Look and Feel and the operational factors that are required to deliver their wares in extremely large quantities, on time, while meeting cost and reliability targets.

MacDailyNews Take: Those who panic over the exit of Jony Ive need not do so.

Again, given Jony’s state of mind and his autonomous position with Apple, his departure is a net positive for the company.


  1. It does not take some celestial once-in-a-lifetime talent to do what Jony Ive did, the real genius was Steve Jobs and his ability to see the future, the technology and uncompromisingly pursue it, Jony Ive did not do either. He was a genius at refinement not of original idea. Apple will be much better with new blood.

  2. “ in extremely large quantities, on time, while meeting cost and reliability targets.”

    With the exception of reliability, how are these not operational factors.

    You know what else was incentivized by operations? Non-serviceable design.
    How else do you explain a thinner iMac at the same footprint, without a thicker more serviceable one too? Same for MacBook semi pros.

      1. He thinks that the decisions to make the devices light and thin are operations dictating to design. It is not clear to me why ops people would not prefer less expensive and more serviceable designs to those that require expensive custom parts and precision assembly, but in the cynic’s mind Apple management is irrational. Ive must have wanted Apple to build big expandable boxes, but Cook and the ops guys overruled him out of sheer insanity.

            1. Operations and Sales.

              -Non/Poor Upgradability forces over spec at time of purchase with way overpriced Apple RAM, SSD, HD and other components.

              -Forces more paid repairs while minimizing support costs. Also sells a lot of AppleCare.

              -Fewer components to stock. Operations loves this.

        1. It is not clear to me how management could override an autonomous employee. Computers thin enough to slice a cake (someone actually did that), butterfly keyboards, and the trash-can Mac took better design chops than anyone on Apple’s management team has. Design was Jony’s sovereign domain. Steve Jobs set it up so no one could override his decisions. He is responsible for all his decisions, not just his good ones.

  3. The loss of Jony Ive is not the end of the world…as we all know everyone is replaceable. However, the loss of such talent due to the new Apple completely “corporate centeric business model” is very sad! I really don’t believe Steve would agree to the current “corporate centeric business model”! As an example, I worked most of my career in the medical field. A couple years ago, I was at a company retreat to discuss the company’s new business model. I (we) were informed that the new business model would change from patient/customer centeric to “business” centeric. That’s what Apple has become and that’s why Jony Ive left Apple…really sad in so many ways! The really losers, you and me (the customers). Jony will do great…he’s a fantastic talent! Unfortunately, Apple like many other corporations just don’t get it!

    1. I don’t know the inside of Jony Ive’s head, but I can speculate that he resigned because having unbridled authority led to unmarketable design choices. If I were him, I’d want to have a job working for someone who could veto bad ideas like trash-can Macs and butterfly keyboards before they ruin my reputation.

  4. Apparently this author has sever heard of Eli Whitney or Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet, Ransom Olds, Walter P Chrysler, David Dunbar Buick, Fisher, the Dodge brothers and the list goes on …. This is a remarkably stupid statement, “new lineage of industrial designers, of artists and engineers who understand that to design a product means taking care of the Look and Feel and the operational factors that are required to deliver their wares in extremely large quantities, on time, while meeting cost and reliability targets.”

  5. Moving the sleep button from the top to the side of the iPhone where users annoyingly have a difficult time avoiding accidentally pressing the volume buttons, changing Control Panel in iPhone so that it no longer shuts off WiFi & BlueTooth but only temporarily does so, picking Butterfly Keyboard vs Scissors Keyboard all for thinness at the expense of usability, sturdiness — poor design decisions which I hope Apple’s new head of design will fix.

    1. The sleep button moving to the side and causing the issues Bluelobe mentions is just one issue that “proves” to me that pure design wasn’t dictating all moves. For a 1st world problem, it fits into the “profound miss” category.

  6. Apple sits at the intersection between the liberal arts and science. Jobs was the traffic light at that intersection, though not the only one. There are several stories from years back when his team overruled him, and the team was right. Now, we get to see if the current team can continue to have taste. I bet they can.

    Jobs wasn’t the only one in the world who could do this kind of work– he was just the first to use taste when it came to computers and the like. There are a lot of us who have grown up under that new paradigm, a number of whom are likely already at Apple. It will be cool to see what they come up with. Standing on the shoulders of giant and all that…

  7. Jony Ive is not a god. He is a flawed genius who occasionally slipped up. Among his questionable triumphs are the G5 cube, the trash-can Mac. When he took over the UI, he produced iOS 7’s vertigo-inducing background image—a feature that would never have made it out the door if he had tested it. In Yosemite, he produced a UI in which windows opened on top of each other and had Helvetica as its system font.

    Steve Jobs was right; you don’t design your products based on focus groups. However, designs have to work in the real world. You absolutely must test your designs on real people and with machines that simulate extended use before you release them. If real people had tested the butterfly keyboard, we’d have had key travel, and if machines had tested its durability, it never would have been released at all.

    Jony Ive is rightly celebrated for his triumphs, but we must also acknowledge his failures.

    Incidentally, younger people prefer the flat UI design, while older people prefer a more realistic design, but actual usability studies show that both groups are equally less proficient with the flat UI.

    1. Yes, much “less proficient” with minimalist ABSTRACT icons and loss of visual details that are by design, difficult to understand and navigate. From all versions up until iOS6 — grade schoolers to grandparents easily understood design and navigation. A colossal mistake that to this day confuses buyers new to iPhone. Jony corrected the other colossal design mistake MP 5+ years later, so, fingers crossed…

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