Apple recently announced that Jony Ive, the company's longtime Chief Design Officer, would be stepping down from the company so that he can operate his own independent design firm. Apple will be one of Ive's clients.
Ive worked for Apple since 1992, and stealthily became one of the most important people within the company. Steve Jobs' return to Apple in 1997 inspired Ive to stick with the organization (he considered quitting several times in his first several years). Ive's input was integral in turning Apple products into hugely popular devices that other companies scrambled to replicate. Even Ive's failed designs were still greatly ambitious, but his successful ones were groundbreaking.
As Ive leaves his role with Apple, here is some of his most influential work:
1. iMac G3
Ive and Jobs had big ideas for the first product Apple would launch upon Jobs' return. They came up with the iMac G3, released in 1998 and largely credited with starting Apple's comeback and subsequent takeover of the industry. The iMac may look dated now but was seen as a revelation at the time. Home computers were boring and boxy. Ive's design choice to make it sleeker and curvier, along with the translucent shell available in different colors, made it stand out and gave Apple its first hit product post-Jobs return.
2. G4 Cube
The G4 Cube computer was one of Ive's follow-ups to the iMac G3, and it was far less successful. The G4 Cube was sleek, shiny and covered in a clear polycarbonate. It was another attempt to stand out from your average home computer with a perfectly cubed design, but it was also criticized for cracking easily, and sales were poor. The G4 Cube is now a cult favorite among Apple enthusiasts, and Ive would continue to develop products with similar "sleek and simple" designs to much greater success.
The iPod was not the first MP3 player on the market, but it's probably the one you think of first, and that is in large part due to Ive's iconic design for it. The original model was released in 2001 and could fit 1,000 songs. The specifics of the iPod design -- the all-white nature, the click wheel -- left other companies desperate to try and compete with their own similar products. But within a few years of launching, the iPod dominated the market.
4. Apple Headphones
Similarly, the headphones that came with the iPod were not the first set of earbuds. But the simple, sleek, all-white design of the headphones that came with the iPod made them all the more memorable, especially in Apple's famous "silhouette" ad campaign featuring silhouettes of people dancing to music on their iPod. The iconic headphones of the original iPod led to today's AirPods.
The iPhone, more than any other design Ive was a part of at Apple, will go down as his most groundbreaking product. Ive and Jobs sought to completely change what it meant to have a cell phone. And when the first iPhone was released in 2007 it did just that, though over a decade later, we may take a lot of those changes for granted. The large glass screen, touchscreen capabilities, the home button -- the things we now just associate with cell phones started with the iPhone, which continues to be improved via newer models.
Ive's influence on the iPhone doesn't just extend to the design of the phone itself. Ive was also involved in iOS 7, the operating system for the iPhone that was released in 2013. iOS 7 was designed to do what Ive had done for so many physical designs - keep it sleek and simple, free of clutter. This minimalist redesign, which also involved adding more vibrant color to the aesthetic, was another groundbreaking design for Ive that is still seen in Apple products today.
6. MacBook Air
Ive's penchant for sleek and simple designs may have reached its apotheosis in 2008, upon the release of the MacBook Air. The selling point of the MacBook Air was that it was the thinnest laptop on the market, light and easily portable at under 2 cm of width. While the MacBook Air was not a perfect laptop, the announcement of its design sent shock waves through the industry. Thinner became essential for other tech companies in their attempt to compete with Apple's so-called thinnest laptop. And the MacBook Air continues to sell with newer models.
7. Butterfly Keyboard
The butterfly keyboard on recent MacBook Air laptops is influential in the sense that it is a cautionary tale: Not everything needs redesigning. Ive sought to take the tenets of his design work up to this point in his career and transfer it to the laptop keyboard. In particular, he brought the razor-thin nature of the MacBook Air to it, resulting in the butterfly keyboard. This design turned out to be greatly flawed, though, and when dust particles made their way under the keys they could render them utterly useless.
8. Apple Watch
Most Apple products since the passing of Steve Jobs have been improved versions of existing products. The exception to this has been the Apple Watch, the wearable tech that works as equal parts watch, iPhone and fitness tracker. Sales were slow to start but have picked up in subsequent models; the latest, the Apple Watch Series 4, is easily the highest-selling smart watch on the market.