It is easy to read, from time to time, that Apple owes much of its success to Jonathan Ive, the designer who conceptually shaped all the devices of the post-2000s Apple era. What if we told you that it’s not entirely true, that Jony actually owes much of his essence to someone else? What if that person had already laid the foundation for Apple as he aspired to be?
That person is not only one of the great geniuses of modern design. A sensei without whom Jony Ive would feel like an orphan. And he is not English, but German: he was born on May 20, 1932, 35 years before Ive. In fact, when Jonathan began to study, our true protagonist was already world famous.
Jony Ive and his hits
Jonathan Ive can boast of being one of the key figures in technological design. Among his endorsements and distinctions, there are dozens of international awards and his portfolio includes the designs of almost the entire essence of Apple: iPod, iPod Mini, iPhone, MacBook Air, iPad, Apple Watch, or AirPods.
However the June 28, 2019 Jony Ive left Apple. After 29 years and, apparently, demotivated by the new strategy of the company. His place would be taken by Evans Hankey, who would also end up leaving his position just a few months ago, in October 2022. Since then, in Cupertino they have faced few changes and have obtained many benefits.
The CEO and boss, Tim Cook, indicated that this would not be a farewell as such, but a see you later: “Apple will continue to benefit from Jony’s talent, working directly with him on exclusive projects and through the team that he has built within of the company After so many years working together, I am glad that our relationship continues and evolves. I am looking forward to continuing to work with Jony for many years to come.”
But if we want to go beyond his work, it is essential to know the most influential figure for Ive. And that is none other than Dieter Rams, considered one of the most influential product designers of the 20th century. And when the prestigious publisher Phaidon decided to publish a “bible” on Rams’s works, Ive was invited to write the foreword. Jony Ive prefaces this book where Rams gives his design notes through essential questions:
“Does it really help enrich our lives or does it just appeal to ideas of status? Is it repairable? Is it durable? Easy to use and flexible in use? Can I easily master it or is the new product mastering me?”
The ‘The Complete Works’ of the Phaidon publishing house is actually a minimal perspective of the incredible depth of this designer: during his career within Braun he personally designed 514 products, although his imprint and signature is on more than 1000. From radios and clocks to sofas and his own house, from bags to work tables that prioritize ergonomics.
Ive is full of praise within this foreword that another author might be writing for Jony himself: “at a glance, you knew exactly what it was and exactly how to use it”. Products like the iPod or the many icons and app interfaces of the first iPhone were based on this precept: accessibility above all else. A minimalism focused on functionality.
Rams himself also recognizes his own idols, such as Peter Behrens, for AEG, or Adriano Olivetti, the most popular typewriter manufacturer of all time. According to Rams, a good design is also the translation of a good relationship between “the entrepreneur and the chief designer”. At Apple this was a conscious reality: Steve Jobs and Jony Ive always worked with a close bond —one impenetrable for a good part of the company’s own staff. It is something that has always been suspected: if Jobs were still with us, Ive would still be with Apple.
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