Industrial Designer Jony Ive and the Secret to Powerful Products

Industrial Design - Photo by Armend Krasniqi

In a recent article entitled Jony Ive Is Not a Graphic Designer, writer Ben Thompson shares a portion of a talk given by Apple’s Industrial Designer Jony Ive. What he says could have been attributed to Steve Jobs and most people would never know the difference:

One of the things that’s interesting about design [is that] there’s a danger, particularly in this industry, to focus on product attributes that are easy to talk about. You go back 10 years, and people wanted to talk about product attributes that you could measure with a number. So they would talk about hard drive size, because it was incontrovertible that 10 was a bigger number than 5, and maybe in the case of hard drives that’s a good thing. Or you could talk about price because there’s a number there.

But there are a lot of product attributes that don’t have those sorts of measures. Product attributes that are more emotive and less tangible. But they’re really important. There’s a lot of stuff that’s really important that you can’t distill down to a number. And I think one of the things with design is that when you look at an object you make many many decisions about it, not consciously, and I think one of the jobs of a designer is that you’re very sensitive to trying to understand what goes on between seeing something and filling out your perception of it. You know we all can look at the same object, but we will all perceive it in a very unique way. It means something different to each of us. Part of the job of a designer is to try to understand what happens between physically seeing something and interpreting it.

I think that sort of striving for simplicity is not a style. It’s an approach and a philosophy. I think it’s about authenticity and being honest. Not just taking something crappy and styling the outside in an arbitrary disconnected way.

Jon is essentially saying that at Apple, experience is the product and that the emotional impact of the design is considered first. How the vision of that product is realized is then dispatched to Engineering.

Usually, it’s the other way around. The functions and features are determined first, then the Designers are tasked with giving it a pleasing look and usability. Factors like the cost of the materials, the labour required and the availability of materials are primary considerations to most firms in product development.

Perfectly logical and commonplace in product development. To do it any other way is irrational, isn’t it?

Judging by Apple’s dominance in consumer electronics, there is a better way.

To Apple, it’s the intangible elements that matter most. It’s the factors that are unseen and unmeasurable but very much felt and experienced.

The fact that people buy emotionally and justify logically, Apple’s strategy to design and build products that charge the emotional sides of our brains doesn’t seem so irrational after all.

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