With Jony Ive gone, Apple’s design team deserves more glory | Cult of Mac

With Jony Ive gone, Apple’s design team deserves more glory


Apple's Industrial Design team at the Apple Watch unveiling.
Apple's Industrial Design team at the Apple Watch unveiling.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Now that Jony Ive and Apple have finally severed ties completely, it’s time for Cupertino’s current Industrial Design team to get the recognition it deserves.

Ive’s old Industrial Design team at Apple has been doing stellar work in his absence, but without getting the full credit. As long as Ive was still an Apple consultant, the credit was muddied: Was this Ive’s work or someone else’s?

Apple industrial design after Jony Ive

Although Ive left Apple in 2019 to start his own design firm, LoveFrom, he was shackled by a golden handcuffs consulting deal that reportedly cost Apple $100 million. Now both parties have decided not to renew his contract, and Ive is free to work for whomever he pleases.

So far, Ive has done work for Airbnb, Ferrari and Prince Charles, and it’ll be interesting to see where he lands next.

Back at Apple, the current Industrial Design team, led by Evans Hankey, a veteran Apple designer and the first woman to lead the studio, has been undoing some of the mistakes of the recent past.

Take the last couple generations of MacBooks, which ditched the disastrous butterfly keyboard and the doomed Touch Bar.

Sometimes, things can be too thin

Pursuing thinness was one of Ive’s hallmarks. When it worked well, it proved spectacular. It led to the sleek profiles of products like the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air, plus ever-thinner iMacs.

But his obsession with thinness also led to own-goals like the “Bendgate” iPhone 6 and the unreliable butterfly keyboard. And then there was the trash can Mac Pro that was hated by pros.

Things started to change in 2021 — two years after Ive left — with the launch of 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros. The laptops featured the return of several ports that Apple removed in 2016.

The previous MacBook Pro models came with only Thunderbolt ports. Many people, including plenty of professionals, lamented the design because it required buying dongles to make the laptop functional. Instead, Apple put back the SD card slot, an HDMI port and MagSafe.

These ports came at a price: The new MacBook Pro is slightly thicker and heavier than previous models.

Although some observers claimed the move was retrograde, the additions were widely praised by creative professionals, who have continued to buy Apple’s Pro laptops in record numbers. Yes, the blazing speeds of Apple silicon are perhaps the biggest factor. However, it seems clear that Apple once again started listening to its customers.

Sayonara, hated Siri remote

The Industrial Design team also overhauled the Apple TV’s much-hated Siri Remote, the previous version of which critics lambasted as nearly unusable. The new remote is bigger, thicker and adds more buttons — another move that seemed unlikely under Ive’s watch, but was much praised when it happened.

More recently, Apple released well-received machines like the Mac Studio, which has — gasp — ports on the front, another Ive-ian design no-no.

The design of the recent iPhones, especially the iPhone 12 and 13, isn’t too shabby, either.

Now that Ive is gone, it’s unlikely Apple will indulge high-end luxury items like a $17,000 gold Apple Watch, which never sat well with me and seemed profoundly anti-Apple. The company always strived to democratize tech, not make it exclusive.

Is Apple’s design really better?

Still, arguing whether Apple’s design has improved in Ive’s absence is tricky. Apple’s products are designed years in advance, and many are iterative — they build on successful designs of the past.

It’s also impossible to say from the outside who contributed what to a final design. Perhaps Ive was involved, perhaps not. The only product that Apple has confirmed Ive was involved with is the 24-inch iMac released in 2021.

But it seems clear that Apple’s design philosophy is changing. The company now listens to customer feedback. In recent interviews, executives explicitly said Apple made hardware changes based on customers’ concerns. This stands in direct contrast to the Ive/Steve Jobs years. (The Apple co-founder famously said, “Customers don’t know what they want.”)

Apple after Jony Ive

There’s no denying that Ive was the most influential designer of his generation, shaping an unprecedented string of groundbreaking products. He helped propel Apple from a struggling niche computer manufacturer into one of the biggest companies in the world. He built a great design team and helped inculcate a design-led culture at Apple, which is his lasting legacy.

But despite Ive’s amazing success at Apple, and his unassailable reputation as this era’s leading designer, it’ll be interesting to see where Apple design goes without him.


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