05/12/2021

088 – Styling PCs – 1997

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Accessible design is good design.  Steve Ballmer, Microsoft

Jonathan Ive qualified in industrial design at Newcastle Polytechnic.  He cofounded a London design agency called Tangerine and gained a consultancy with Apple which turned in to a full-time role. 

At Apple he worked on Newton PDAs, printers and other unedifying stuff, but showed his originality with the Twentieth Anniversary Mac, adding a flat LCD screen.

Steve Jobs had returned to Apple and was engaged in the development of the iMac from 1997.  By September he had taken on the role of interim CEO.  He assumed the role full-time on 5 January 2000.   Jobs promoted a four-cell plan, a two-by-two block that expressed his corporate mission; it was essentially a desktop and laptop version for both the consumer and professional sectors.

Jobs visited the design team and was impressed by Ive’s prototypes.  Ive was appointed senior vice president of industrial design and tasked with the design of the iMac.  He was much inspired by the Braun designer Dieter Rams and his ‘ten principles of good design’.

The iMac G3 was launched in August 1998 with a 233 MHz G3 processor, a 4 GByte hard drive, a 15” colour screen and stereo speakers.  It was one of the first to dispense with floppy drives.

It was also the computer that introduced the USB (universal serial bus) so that keyboard, mouse and other peripherals were simple plug and play devices.  This was developed at Intel by Ajay V Bhatt’s team, later promoted by his company as a sort of technology rock star.

But these features were not really the point.  It was Ive’s styling that grabbed the attention – colourful cabinets were in!  Ive suggests he spent time looking at sweets to define these colours.

The ‘i’ in iMac stood for Internet and Apple explained that logging on required just two steps – open the box and plug it in.  This featured in an advert with Jeff Goldblum.

In 1998 Apple was turned around and achieved a $414m profit through reduction of overheads and the success of the iMac.

Jobs and Ive centred their thinking on the user experience.  Ive’s iMac design inspired a dynasty of Apple computer designs – iBook, PowerBooks, G4, G5, MacBook Air…  He was driven to look for ever smaller, thinner, lighter approaches to the PC, and had many more ideas than the ones we actually got to see.

Jobs moved the mission statement on to what he termed the Digital Hub.  Stand-alone electronic products like camcorders, MP3 players and digital cameras were manufactured to a price and had constrained memory and not much user-friendliness.  Jobs set out for the Mac to be the hub to which these devices would be routinely attached.  The memory of a Mac would archive all content and software packages would manipulate, edit and publish the material.

The design of one of the first steps in this process fell to Ive.  This was the iPod and its subsequent family of products.  He would go on to develop the iPhone and the iPad.

The intuitive easy-to-use nature of these products allowed Apple to overtake the turnovers of both Google and Microsoft.

Ive’s native country has been appreciative.  In 2005 Queen Elizabeth II was revealed to be an iPod user and a year later Ive received a CBE.  In 2012 he was decorated again with a KBE.

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