Learning from Jony Ive’s Design Genius

Sir Jonathan Ive is one of the world’s most well-known and critically-acclaimed industrial designers. You’ve probably heard his silky voiceovers during Apple’s minimal product commercials. The designer has spent years working for Apple, some of his most notable designs including the iPhone and iMac.

However, earlier today, it was reported that Ive would be moving on from Apple in a surprise move that caused the company to shed billions in market value. Actually, his move wasn’t really that surprising, as people have been speculating he’s been going to leave for years. He was just kind of on a roll at the moment, after the release of the new iPad Pro and Mac Pro.

There is certainly a lot to be learned from Ive and the way that he does design. In this article, we explore some of his design philosophies and practices that have helped shape the most iconic technology products of our age.

A high value is placed on physically building prototypes.

Many designers “don’t know how to make stuff, because workshops in design schools are expensive and computers are cheaper”.

The ‘digital trap’ of design is very easy to slip into, especially in our increasingly digital age. It’s not just that it’s cheaper to design things on the computer than in the real world; it’s also much easier and faster. But digital designs and renders can only give you a feel for a design to a certain extent. One of the most undervalued components of a product’s aesthetic and ergonomic function is the way it feels in your hands. This tactile experience just isn’t available digitally.

“CAD software can make a bad design look palatable! … People who are great at designing and making have a great advantage.”

So take it from the master himself: one of the most crucial skills to develop as a designer is the ability to physically make things. It’s going to help you design better products and have a better understanding of how they feel in the real world.

Ive regularly rejects ideas throughout the design process so that he can find the best idea.

Failure’s not a bad thing.

“There are 9 rejected ideas for every idea that works.”

He notes that if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to fail – if we are not failing we are not pushing. 80% of the stuff in the studio is not going to work. If something is not good enough, stop doing it.”

In his work, Ive strives to be different, but also better.

One of Apple’s most famous slogans was “Think Different”. While this is an extremely important vision to have when trying to foster innovation, Ive demonstrates that each point of difference should be intentional. That is, designers should strive to be different in order to improve, not just to stand out.

“We won’t be different for different’s sake. Different is easy. Make it pink and fluffy!”

It’s true that making a product different can be done with incredible ease. The challenge comes in implementing radically different solutions in order to create something better. Gimmicks have a very short life, while solutions are more timeless.

He is also deeply philosophical about materials and manufacturing.

One of the reasons Ive sounds so good in his commercials is that he really knows what he’s talking about.

“Unless we understand a certain material — metal or resin and plastic — understanding the processes that turn it from ore, for example – we can never develop and define form that’s appropriate.”



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