Apple is better off without Jony Ive’s glitz

Someone posted this article on my company slack about Apple finally understanding that their brainless, aesthete’s arrogance was causing them to make much prettier, but far worse, products. I must say, since I bought my latest MacBook it in 2018, I’ve been infuriated by the sheer wrongheadedness of its design. So, of course, this inspired another of my design rants.

I’ll post the whole thing below, but the part of this spew I’m happiest with is this bit:

A design system is complete only in its interaction with people — the use of its users, the action of its actors. Without people using it, a design artifact is only a component of a design system.

I’ve tried to articulate this thought  before, but this is the best it’s come out, so far. It is this — that people are viewed as an intrinsic part of the system being developed — that should distinguish engineering from design.

Here’s the full rant:

Jony Ive is a first-rate talent, obviously.

But, sadly, his was the wrong first-rate talent for the job he was asked to do at Apple. His talent is sculpture. And it is precisely his artistic genius that disqualifies him from doing great, or even good, design.

Ive’s exaltation of Ramsian elegance over usability, deeply damaged Apple in ways they may not fully realize.

The laptops were only one example, and not even the worst. It was his software design misleadership that harmed Apple the most. Ive ruined iOS with his “anti-skeumorphic” embrace of flat design, which was essentially a system-wide affordance-ectomy. Those fake shadows Ive mistook for decorations, were, in fact, cues that helped users understand how to interact with the screen! While most of those screens were more beautiful to behold after he performed his cosmetic magic on them, that’s not what they are for. User interfaces are for interaction, and it is in the quality of the interaction where UI beauty should be judged. Ive’s interaction designs were confusing, affordanceless trial-and-error pigshit, draped over with elegantly minimalistic graphic design. Their graphical elegance was purchased at a cost of requiring users to decipher them to figure out what was a merely graphical informational or aesthetic element to be read or looked at and what were widgets capable of specific kinds of interaction. Ive prioritized the static appearance of a screen over the the dynamic experience of using it to do something.

In this principled arrogance of imposing an aesthetic vision on passive consumers, Ive aped the worst qualities of Jobs. Jobs’s saving grace was that he loved interaction design as much as ID and graphic design and saw to it that the interactions, most of all, were insanely great.

Jobs instinctively understood the single most important thing every reflective designer must never forget:A design system is complete only in its interaction with people — the use of its users, the action of its actors. Without people using it, a design artifact is only a component of a design system. Jobs judged his work with the human element included. (That human usually himself, but somehow he was able to discern — and maybe that was his best talent.)

But Ive did not understand this. Accordingly he made artifacts so pure that the presence of a person and the context of a life ruined their photogenic perfection. Without Jobs’s supervision, Ive basically beautified Apple’s portfolio into a fashion shitheap. Very few people seem to perceive this key difference, and they have not grasped the decay of Apple’s brand from one founded on wonderful interactive experiences to one of looking-at and being-seen-owning desirable objects — consumer gaze fodder.

I’m glad Ive is gone. I’m glad Apple might be returning to designing products to be enjoyed in use rather than adorned, photographed, awarded, chattered about and documented for eventual worshipful career retrospectives.

Ive should never have been put in charge of Jobs’s legacy. He should have stuck with what he’s dedicated the rest of his life to: crafting luxury goods for the obscenely rich. Stuff like yachts and jewelry, meant to be seen from afar, admired and envied. That’s where is heart is.

It will take a decade for Apple to fully recover from the glitz, if it ever chooses to kick designer luxury to the curb and return to quality design

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