Four ways Apple’s Jony Ive transformed tech – and one way he didn’t

Designing for humans

Apple revolutionised the technology industry multiple times. But the news chief design officer Jony Ive is to leave the company has sent shockwaves through the industry as much as any new iPhone or Mac.

You might scoff at Apple’s lofty videos, and the way it caresses tech like a parent would a newborn. But there’s no denying the impact the company has had, especially since the late 1990s – and much of that has been down to Jony Ive’s design smarts.

Here are four ways his work upended tech – and one way it didn’t.

iMac: a human computer

Before the iMac, computers were boring, ugly beige boxes – things to be hidden away under a desk. Drawing on concepts from the ludicrously expensive Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, the consumer-oriented iMac was like nothing else we’d seen before.

The translucent shell invited you to peer inside. There was a handle for picking the iMac up and moving it around. The colour suggested fun rather than work. Proprietary ports were banished, with Apple instead doubling down on USB. Moreover, this was computing hardware you’d be happy to show off in your home.

Naturally, the rest of the industry didn’t get it at first, choosing to respond by gluing semi-transparent pieces of plastic to the aforementioned boring, ugly beige boxes – and then wondering why they too weren’t getting design kudos.

iPhone: sawing off the keyboard

You might be sitting there pawing at your Android smartphone, scoffing at people buying expensive iPhones. What you’ve probably forgotten is what phones looked like before the iPhone rocked up.

Apple’s cunning thinking, driven heavily by Ive’s penchant for minimalism and classy design, stripped everything right back. The result: the then-ubiquitous keyboard was sawn off, leaving behind a slab of glass and metal.

And so it’s been ever since, with everyone else clamouring to refine that iconic design. Yet it’s still often Apple that sweats the details, like the curve of a display, while others can’t even get their bezels the same size around a device’s edges.

MacBook Air: thinny thin thin

There were gasps when Steve Jobs pulled a Mac notebook from an envelope. The obsession with thin had kicked off in a big way, and would forever define what a notebook should be. Ive’s remarkable and sleek design was subsequently cloned by just about everyone.

As Ive himself explained on stage, though, design isn’t just about how something looks, but also how it works. Apple’s unibody research enabled all of its notebooks to get thinner, but also stronger. Again, Ive was broadly responsible for a template that caused an industry-wide shift.

Apple Watch: sign of the times

The original Apple Watch saw Apple flirt with luxury fashion in an ostentatious manner. The Apple Watch Edition clearly wasn’t a product “for the rest of us”, and left a sour taste. 

Fortunately, in the base design (minus gold) – and more so in the most recent iteration – Ive hit upon something no-one else has yet managed to recreate: a smart watch people care about, want to wear, and actually know exists.

Apple pitched the Mac at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. Ive’s work on Apple Watch for millions finally placed Apple tech seamlessly and deeply into their everyday lives as well.

Magic Mouse 2: whattheheckio?

It’s unclear what Jony Ive has against mice. If you’d battled with the original iMac’s puck-shaped one, you’ll know it was hardly a design triumph. But the nadir was arguably Magic Mouse 2, with a charging port on the underside.

What drove this decision, we’ve no idea. Perhaps Ive and Apple hated you using the thing tethered. Stuff proffers it’d still quite like to use kit while it charges, thanks.

Still, the odd miss is to be expected in a career littered with hits. Stuff will miss Ive’s direct input into Apple, and hopes a new chapter reinvigorates Ive and Apple alike. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a video of Ive going all M&S, his warm tones explaining what’s great about the devices he had a hand in creating.

This isn’t just any designer. This is an Apple designer.