RE: WIRED 2021: Jony Ive’s iPod, Intentions, and the Future of LoveFrom
After 27 years with Apple, Sir Jony Ive decided to start something new. The legendary codesigner of products like the iPod, the iMac, the iPhone, the MacBook, and the iPad seems to have found himself with some sort of split vision recently. With an eye to the past, he also looks closely to the future, in an effort to glean how the former can inform the latter. Of course, as one of the world’s most renowned designers working in an industry that studies his every move, he can have a little of his finger on the scales.
This year RE: WIRED CONFERENCE, I spoke to another legend in his own right, chief interior officer at Condé Nast and editorial director of the world of Vogue, Anna Wintour. The conversation ranges from the future of wearables to the power of silence and the developed curiosity of Steve Jobs.
Hard to believe, but 20 years have passed the first iPod revealed. In today’s world of 5G phones streaming music to our wireless earbuds, it’s easy to forget how distracting the little device can be, for the rest of the world and for Apple as a company. “Until then Apple was making general computing devices,” Ive recalled in Tuesday’s speech. “And one of the things that is so unique about the computer is its ability to be general purpose. And I think what really marks the iPod is the beginning of making much more specific products and devices.
So much consideration has been given to the iPod, from the laser-etched metal to the gloss-feeling plastic, and even the color of the earbuds. There was shock and resistance to the idea of white headphones at the time, with people wondering why you would want to draw attention to what an accessory is. But that’s all about Apple’s vision. This is the only part of the device that people see when using the iPod, and the bright white cables have effectively turned each user into a walking advertisement for the new mobile lifestyle being sold by Apple.
Together with Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, Ive achieved a lofty goal: to create a design that is very different without needing a company name or logo in front of it. The release of a consumer tech product without such branding was hardly heard of at the time, but that gamble paid off. Hundreds of millions of iPods have been sold, and after the addition to the iTunes music store, the device continues to change the way people buy, listen to, and experience music.
Ive noticed that the iPod is, in a true sense, the first piece of technology available to Apple. As for where wearables are heading, I think the technology will continue to become more personal. “There’s no doubt … that some of these products will disappear under our skin,” he told Wintour. “I can’t think of anything more personal, more specific, more individual, and closer than the things that are within us.” He doesn’t mean that he, personally, works on such a device, but one has to think about what ideas he can come up with.
This fall marks another big, but even more sad, anniversary for Ive. October 5 is marked 10 years since the death of his friend and close colleague Steve Jobs. If I remember all his time with Jobs, he would be less remembered for his accomplishments and more so for his values and priorities in his way of working. “It was exciting, it was a shocking celebration,” Ive recalls of Jobs. “Even if the surprise means he’s wrong. He’s more interested in learning than righteousness.”
I’ve realized over the past decade that, while many people think of curiosity as a natural thing you can be born with, it’s something that needs to be cultivated, and requires a lot of purpose. Some of his memories of his most productive times with Steve Jobs were when they walked together and didn’t say much, but thought to be close to each other. “Almost always, in my experience, the strongest ideas happen quietly, and they are weak. And they need — with respect and courtesy — to be gently cared for in order for them to be powerful.”
The social type
More than two years ago, I left Apple as his in-house chief design officer to start an independent design firm called Love from, with industry designer Marc Newson. The company is comprised of a diverse group of designers, architects, mathematicians, and more, and the group works with companies including Apple, Airbnb, Amazon Collective, Montcler, and Ferrari. LoveFrom’s focus is not only on pushing design into the future, but also trying to find ways that smarter design can help address climate change crisis.
Interestingly, the first product released by LoveFrom has roots in the distant past. It’s a typeface called LoveFrom Serif, and it’s based on some work by typographer John Baskerville who is over 200 years old. LoveForm was able to trace the original iron punches Baskerville used to drop his typefaces back in the 1700s. The team also scanned and redrowed all the characters, and it now has more than 7,000 different letter forms and symbols in a variety of styles that it can use in modern designs. I think this is a good example of his philosophy of respecting the past while looking to the future. It’s a vision that emphasizes the difference between steel tools, which are physically similar in design, and the digital world in the forms of an ethereal and manipulative screen.