I interviewed Jony Ive twice: once in 2002, immediately after the launch of the “sunflower” iMac (which looked, at first glance, like an Anglepoise lamp with a screen) and then again in 2014, at the launch of the Apple Watch. Both times, the tricky thing was maneuvering the ebb and flow of the conversation between the things he was really keen to talk about, and the ones where he couldn’t seem to find the words for what he wanted to describe.
In my writeup of the first interview, I said that in those latter moments he sounded “like a man trying to describe God to a world without religion.” And that still seems true: I think he was someone used to describing what he did much more by instantiating it — making it physical — than painting verbal pictures.
In the first interview, he also admitted to admiring people who work on satellites, where you have to justify every iota of space consumed, every gram of weight, because they’re expensive and you only get one chance to get them right. “When you look at how a satellite is made — the formal solution that has to answer a bunch of imperatives, what goes in, what doesn’t, how you fit it together, there’s so much stuff that people don’t think is consciously designed,” he said.
iMac: good. Mouse: bad
All of the plaudits for Jony Ive begin with how he and Steve Jobs saved Apple with the iMac. No doubt about it: that instantly recognizable shape became an icon, and led to thousands of imitations using translucent colored plastic, often in that same Bondi Blue, to show that they were part of the late-90s vibe. In a sense, the iMac was a triumph of packaging: the components inside were pretty straightforward. If Apple had put them into a beige box, the company would now be a historical footnote.
Yet what’s almost universally overlooked in the paeans to Ive’s design legacy is that the fabulous iMac design also included one of his worst mistakes: the “hockey puck” mouse, whose round shape was so unfriendly to the human hand that it effectively kickstarted the market for third-party USB mice out of thin air.