Invention, Design, & Branding Lessons from Apple’s Lead Designer Jony Ive

JonyIveThe GeniusBehindApplesGreatestProducts

“In a company that was born to innovate, the risk is in not innovating. . .The real risk is to think it is safe to play it safe,” said Jony Ive, the lead industrial designer for Apple.

Jony Ive is the subject of Leander Kehney’s book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products . Steve Jobs, deservedly,  gets a lot of attention and credit for the success of Apple products. However, Jony Ive is the man behind many of the decisions about and features of Apple’s products.  The book is not an authorized biography. Yet, it provides insights into the product innovation process and product development process at Apple. It also demonstrates how product design alone can indicate a brand to customers.

Design Alone Can Carry Branding without a Logo or a Name
The face of the iPhone and IPad has an infinity pool look devoid of any product or company name or logo. The brand is carried by the design itself:

iPhone 4 with the black “infinity pool” face common to all iPhones

The front face bore neither the company logo nor the name of the product. “We also knew from our experience with iPod,” [Chris] Stringer [of Apple] explained, “if you make a startlingly beautiful and original design, you don’t need to. It stands for itself. It becomes a cultural icon.”

Apple sought design patents to protect the look of the iPhone which proved effective when Apple sued Samsung alleging Samsung’s phones were copied from Apple designs and infringed Apple’s design patents, among others.

Apart from patents, the idea that the shape of a product can indicate a source of the product is recognized in trademark law as trade dress protection. Apple was also successful proving that some of Samsung’s phones infringed Apple’s trade dress rights in the design of the iPhone. The iPhone and iPad are products that demonstrate the look of a product through its design can do the work of conveying the brand to the customers.

Innovation is a Series of Steps, Not one Giant Leap
Richard Powell of the design firm Seymourpowell is quoted on the process of invention in the book:

“Innovation…is rarely about a big idea; more usually it’s about a series of small ideas brought together in a new and better way. Jony’s fanatical drive for excellence is, I think, most evident in the stuff beyond the obvious; the stuff you perhaps don’t notice that much, but which makes a difference to how you interact with the product, how you feel about it.”

Design Should Make Technology Approachable
Apple is famous for making products that are easy to use. The handle and the transparency of the iMac case (click here for a photo of the IMac case) is discussed as an example:

The transparency added a sense of accessibility, but in order to give the iMac an even more approachable feel, the designers added a handle on top. For Jony, the handle on the iMac was not really for carrying it around, but to build a bond with the consumer by encouraging them to touch it. It was an important but almost intangible innovation that would change the way people interact with computers.

“Back then, people weren’t comfortable with technology,” Jony explained. “If you’re scared of something, then you won’t touch it. I could see my mum being scared to touch it. So I thought, if there’s this handle on it, it makes a relationship possible. It’s approachable. It’s intuitive. It gives you permission to touch. It gives a sense of its deference to you.”

Design Interest from Early Age Cultivated by his Father
Jony had an interest in design from a young age.

As a young boy, Jony exhibited a curiosity about the workings of things. He became fascinated by how objects were put together, carefully dismantling radios and cassette recorders, intrigued with how they were assembled, how the pieces fit. Though he tried to put the equipment back together again, he didn’t always succeed.

“I remember always being interested in made objects,” he [Jony] recalled in a 2003 interview conducted at London’s Design Museum. “As a kid, I remember taking apart whatever I could get my hands on. Later, this developed into more of an interest in how they were made, how they worked, their form and material.”

Jony’s father, Mike Ive, worked as a silversmith and a teacher. Mike eventually was put in charge of monitoring the quality of teaching at schools in his district, focusing on design and technology. In doing so Mike moved design technology from a marginal subject to something that occupied seven to 10 percent of a student’s school time. Mike’s design emphasis was not limited to school but also was passed on to his son:

Mike Ive encouraged his son’s interest, constantly engaging the youngster in conversations about design. Although Jony didn’t always see the larger context implied by his playthings (“The fact they had been designed was not obvious or even interesting to me initially,” he told the London crowd in 2003), his father nurtured an engagement with design throughout Jony’s childhood.

He was constantly talking to Jonathan about design. If they were walking down the street together, Mike might point out different types of street lamps in various locations and ask Jonathan why he thought they were different: how the light would fall and what weather conditions might affect the choice of their designs. They were constantly keeping up a conversation about the built environment and what made-objects were all around them . . . and how they could be made better.

Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products is a worth while read with interesting insights into Apple’s product development and design processes and philosophy. Particularly interesting was Apple’s intentional reliance on trade dress rights in the look of the product–without any logo or name on the face of the iPhone and iPad–to convey its brand.