Apple announced last week that Jony Ive, its famed designer, is leaving the company. Among the usual hagiography, I’ve noticed a handful of pieces that are more critical of his legacy.
Here’s John Gruber at Daring Fireball, for instance:
Ive is, to state the obvious, preternaturally talented. But in the post-Jobs era, with all of Apple design, hardware and software, under his control, we’ve seen the software design decline and the hardware go wonky. I don’t know the inside story, but it certainly seems like a good bet that MacBook keyboard fiasco we’re still in the midst of is the direct result of Jony Ive’s obsession with device thinness and minimalism. Today’s MacBooks are worse computers but more beautiful devices than the ones they replaced. Is that directly attributable to Jony Ive? With these keyboards in particular, I believe the answer is yes.
And here’s Jason Koebler at Motherboard:
Under Ive, Apple began gluing down batteries inside laptops and smartphones (rather than screwing them down) to shave off a fraction of a millimeter at the expense of repairability and sustainability.
It redesigned MacBook Pro keyboards with mechanisms that are, again, a fraction of a millimeter thinner, but that are easily defeated by dust and crumbs (the computer I am typing on right now—which is six months old—has a busted spacebar and ‘r’ key). These keyboards are not easily repairable, even by Apple, and many MacBook Pros have to be completely replaced due to a single key breaking. The iPhone 6 Plus had a design flaw that led to its touch screen spontaneously breaking—it then told consumers there was no problem for months before ultimately creating a repair program. Meanwhile, Apple’s own internal tests showed those flaws. He designed AirPods, which feature an unreplaceable battery that must be physically destroyed in order to open.
I’m glad to see this sort of criticism get louder. I use a lot of Apple’s stuff, and in the past few years it’s felt like functionality and usability have been shunted in favor of vague, elusive aesthetic goals. Heck, I still keep a 2015 MacBook Air around because Apple doesn’t make any laptops I like typing on anymore.
Back in 2003, the New York Times Magazine ran a piece on the iPod that included this quote:
“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. “People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
It doesn’t seem like Ive ever fully internalized that.