Apple’s product design has improved since Jony Ive departed – Alex Webb

Steve Jobs’ design-first approach to Apple product development was considered pioneering, but after Jobs, with Jony Ive in charge of design, there were, at times, questions as to whether a device’s appearance took precedence over its ease of use.

Jonathan Ive
Jonathan Ive

Alex Webb for Bloomberg Businessweek:

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.

Perhaps this would have happened under Ive, but Evans Hankey, who now heads the industrial design team, has overseen plenty of other tweaks that seem to indicate a change of philosophy.

Take the iPhone. The latest iterations have ditched the curved edges that made the display liable to crack if dropped on its side. Or the Apple TV remote, whose symmetry made it visually appealing, but meant that users often inadvertently pressed the wrong buttons by holding it upside down. The design was revamped in May.

“Since Jony Ive left, there’s not that gravitational force driving aesthetic before function,” Paul Found, a lecturer in industrial design at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury, England. “Those who have taken over are now listening to what customers are saying.”

MacDailyNews Take: If this sounds familiar to you, thank you for being a regular reader of MacDailyNews!

But before we get into that:

Dieter Rams’ 10 principles for good design

  1. Good design is innovative: The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

  2. Good design makes a product useful: A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

  3. Good design is aesthetic: The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

  4. Good design makes a product understandable: It clarifies the products structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

  5. Good design is unobtrusive: Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the users self-expression.

  6. Good design is honest: It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

  7. Good design is long-lasting: It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in todays throwaway society.

  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail: Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

  9. Good design is environmentally friendly: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

  10. Good design is as little design as possible: Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

On to the quotefest!

Obviously, Jony Ive helped turn Apple into what it is today. Yes, by the end of his time at Apple, he got a little weird and seemed more than a little bored/distracted, but his myriad contributions to Apple over many years cannot be overstated!MacDailyNews, November 21, 2019

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.MacDailyNews, July 7, 2019

Hey, Jony: Enough with the thin. Everything is thin enough. Sometimes too thin. Thinner isn’t the answer to everything, nor is thinness intrinsic to good design. We’d gladly take a bit more robustness and battery life over more unnecessary thinness, thanks.MacDailyNews, June 25, 2018

We’ve had to endure years of inferior keyboards in order to shave off half a millimeter about which no one not named Jony gave a rat’s ass.MacDailyNews, April 2, 2019

Tim Cook can protest all we wants, but the fact of the matter is that if Jony Ive were fully engaged and intellectually challenged, he’d still be an Apple employee.MacDailyNews, July 1, 2019

The law of diminishing returns can also be applied to industrial design. Apple’s eternal quest for thinness eventually runs into issues such as bulging camera assemblies, battery capacity, strength (breakability), etc. – is Apple’s quest for thinness now bordering on the quixotic? So, is it “you can never be too thin” or is it “thin enough is thin enough?”MacDailyNews, December 21, 2015

Before you read the rest of the more scathing quotes below, for which we were pilloried by many during the times they were written, but which were ultimately proven right, as usual (since we discuss what’s really going on with Apple, not just what Apple wants you to hear), remember this quote above all:

We’re very happy for Jony Ive, who has longed to leave and do what he wants when he wants for quite some time now. Here’s to many happy years designing wonderful things, Jony! — MacDailyNews, June 28, 2019

Jony certainly wasn’t involved with the design of the Apple TV’s [original] Siri Remote – unless he was drunk during the 20 minutes that were lavished on its so-called design. — MacDailyNews, November 22, 2016

With the Siri Remote, users can’t tell which end is up in a darkened room due to uniform rectangular shape. The remote is still too small, so it gets lost easily. All buttons are the same size and similarly smooth (the raised white ring around the menu button helps, but so barely it’s astounding that Apple even bothered; it’s a bandaid on a turd). The tactile difference between the bottom of the remote vs. the upper Glass Touch surface is too subtle as well; this also leads to not being able to tell which end is up. A larger remote, designed for hands larger than a 2-year-old’s with a simple wedge shape (slightly thicker in depth at the bottom vs. the top), as opposed to a uniform slab, would have instantly communicated the proper orientation to the user.

If Jony Ive “designed” the Siri Remote, he should forfeit his knighthood*.

*But we all know Jony has been obsessed with Apple Park for many years now and likely never even saw the piece of shit remote before they threw it in the box. — MacDailyNews, September 25, 2017

How many hundreds of billions of dollars more does Apple management need at their disposal in order to do their jobs properly? Any other reasonably competent company a quarter the size of Apple, generating a quarter the amount of income as Apple, should be able to unveil a new iPhone every year while still keeping their Mac lines at least reasonably up-to-date. Apple can’t seem to manage the former or the latter.

What’s the problem? Too big, too fast? Moving into the spaceship? Getting fat and lazy on easy recurring revenue? Too much old blood and not nearly enough new in Apple’s upper management ranks and on Apple’s Board of Directors? Jony’s painfully obvious disinterest or outright absence (see the ugly iPhone Smart Battery Case and the awfully-designed Apple TV Siri Remote, for two recent examples)? No Steve around to really motivate the troops? Founder’s quotes on the wall no longer cutting it already?

Seemingly confused, distracted, and lazy management is a painful thing to witness.

“Oh, but Apple is doing great!” you say? Sure, but you could make the case that they could be doing even better, perhaps much better. — MacDailyNews, August 4, 2016

Perhaps having an industrial designer in charge of user interface design wasn’t such a hot idea after all?

Pick a design language, one design language, and stick to it consistently, Apple!

Once again, the issue with Apple Inc. today is a matter of focus or, more precisely, lack thereof.

Enough dicking around with doorknobs. Let’s have some serious Jobsian focus on the customers’ experience again, please! — MacDailyNews, May 7, 2018

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    1. Jony actually has a great sense for design, imo. What Steve brought, besides his own astute design sense, was fitting the visual design to the human. The loss of this team was profound and Apple forever changed.

  1. Yes, finally after Ive’s departure, the old design adage “form follows function” is NOW TRUE.

    Jony could not care less, it was all about ego and what looks cool winning design awards. His epic design debacle was the MacPRO round trashcan for reasons regular readers already know and too numerous to mention…

    1. That trashcan design might have worked better if the circuit boards designed for it were both flexible and thermally stable in a curved shape. They ended up forcing quadrilaterals into a round space. Even kids know that’s difficult to force together.

    2. Truly, if I had the choice of a form factor like the “trashcan” or the current MP, I’d take the first w/o question. Beyond the great visual design, it needed to work and affordably so. That didn’t happen.

      It had a G4 problem. Both were visually remarkable. There’s not one vendor that’s reached in anyway like those.

  2. He kill the Confort and bigger battery for his little tiny slick design on iPhones..
    Good is Gone now I really Enjoy my IPhone13 Mini with steroids and bigger Battery….

    1. Yeah, I never understood the whole obsession with shrinking everything down as thin as possible. Keep doing that, and eventually it’s going to have a negative impact on performance.

      1. Steve Jobs was obsessed with things being small. There was the story of the iPod prototype being shown to him and he threw it into a fish tank. He pointed out that all the air bubbles coming up from it were because of wasted space. Therefore it could be made smaller.

  3. A few years ago I was taken aback by the sudden thinning of the iPhone system text. I’ve had it set to bold ever since.

    A friend with a visual impairment had a worse time with the changes, including the lower contrast of dark gray fonts on a light gray background. So I set her iPhone’s display options to Bold Text and Increase Contrast to restore what the interface redesign had taken away.

    1. I used to teach English to a group of blind students in Poland, most of them had iPhones because of the superior accessibility features. Annoying changes are one thing but when it severely impacts people who rely on your tech just so you can play avant-garde designer, it’s borderline criminal. Every new OS Apple releases should be preceded by a detailed list broken down by app and the entire UI, containing all of the changes being made from the previous version. I’m done upgrading to discover “updates” changes that screw up my muscle memory. Perhaps Apple’s hardware design has improved since Ive left (basically just un-f#*king what he screwed up) but their software, from bugs to artificial limitations like on the iPad, is abysmal compared to the stability and useful, iterative improvements of 5+ years ago.

    2. Yes, Sir Jony the Ive was responsible for that. He thinned fonts display and It was around iOS 7 I believe. That’s about the time when Ive started sticking his nose into “software” design and crashed with Scott Forstall, at the time Scott was designing software aesthetics too (remember skeuomorphic design?). I doubt Scott would have continued skeuomo theme as iPhone progressed, but Ive certainly encroached (well tried) too much into the software aesthetics, and it was good that he did not, or could not continue. He did not contribute much to the software aesthetics anyway as I did not think he had any “flare” in his so called design. If Scott, or anybody who had deeper understanding on software and/or display, things would have been much more interesting and exciting, or at least easier to look and interact with other aspects of the software design.

  4. The ideal balance was Jony Ive with someone (Steve Jobs) to pull him back so he does not go too far toward aesthetics. Without Ive at Apple, the result now is an iMac that is highly functional, but looks somewhat boring and utilitarian. And there’s a notch on a MacBook’s screen; functionally it’s OK if goal is super thin bezel, but it looks weird. My MacBook Air is still the OLD design (2017 model) with wide silver bezel. It works well and looks elegant, balanced. It’s well-designed both aesthetically and functionally. Apple needs that balance to create truly great products.

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