iBauhaus traces iPhone design back to … 1920s Germany? [Book review]

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iBauhaus book
An intriguingly different look at the origins of the iPhone.
Photo: Luke Dormehl/Cult of Mac

Quirky but excellent new book iBauhaus traces Apple’s design principles to a German design school nearly a century old. Written by art expert Nicholas Fox Weber, the book won’t appeal to everyone.

If you’re exclusively interested in behind-the-scenes details of how Apple makes and sells its products, this book probably isn’t for you. If you shuddered through Jony Ive interviews heavy on design-speak, this definitely isn’t the book for you.

However, a certain segment of readers — myself included — will find iBauhaus really enjoyable. And they will learn a lot about the design of the iPhone along the way.

iBauhaus review

Bauhaus was all about combining the fine arts with crafts, mixing the practical with the aesthetically pleasing. While the German school’s heyday lasted only 14 years — from 1913 to 1933 — its influence extended far beyond that time. In the process, Bauhaus created a type of modern design that combined mass production with individual artistic vision, beauty and usefulness.

It’s this “attitude” of Bauhaus that interests iBauhaus author Weber. He knows his Bauhaus exceptionally well. For more than 40 years, he has been executive director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, championing the values of Bauhaus. Over the years, Weber wrote many articles and books about Bauhaus, becoming one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject.

iPhone epitomizes Bauhaus ideals

Weber’s thesis — as the book’s subtitle makes clear — is that the iPhone represents “the embodiment of Bauhaus ideas and design.” Through a series of illustrated, essay-like chapters, Weber traces the history of Bauhaus. Throughout, he exhaustively details how the iPhone reflects those ideals in everything from its physical form factor to its software interface.

Weber even draws on a quote from Leander Kahney, Cult of Mac’s publisher and “incisive biographer” of Jony Ive. Weber points out that Kahney notes how British designers picked up the German Bauhaus style in the 1950s. This influence found its way, via British-born Jony Ive, into the California design principles of the iPhone.

iBauhaus: A quirky ode to iPhone design

As someone with only a passing knowledge of Bauhaus, I found iBauhaus to be a great introduction to the topic — expressed through a device that I am intimately acquainted with.

If you’re looking for a straightforward history of the iPhone, this isn’t the book for you. But, alongside more business-focused Apple books, I’ve always enjoyed quirkier, more unorthodox analyses of Cupertino’s products. I place Weber’s enlightening volume up there with D.E. Wittkower’s fine iPod and Philosophy: iCon of an ePoch.

For people who take seriously the idea that Apple is, fundamentally, a design company, iBauhaus delivers a fascinating analysis of where those principles came from.

List price: $27.95

Buy from: Amazon