Jonathan Ive and Marc Newson Gripe About Design’s Current State



At a recent London screening of the new documentary about industrial design, Objectified, Apple’s lead designer Jonathan Ive joined Marc Newson to introduce the film. The event wasn’t exactly a love-note to contemporary design–the film itself is deeply ambivalent about consumption, and Ive and Newson took the chance to unload about design’s present condition.

As Design Week reports:

…Ive expressed nostalgia for the days before rapid
prototyping.’When we started out we made all our own models.
Just pressing “print” is an obstacle to designers being close to the materials and the object. There is a lot of lousy design,’ he said. Ive also attributed the ‘awful arbitrariness of form’ to technological advances on electronic products. ‘Form
being divorced from a product’s function is a huge and incredible
challenge for design,’ said Apple’s senior vice-president of industrial design. He declined to comment on the state of the U.K.’s digital product design industry, and said he ‘didn’t know’ if he’d ever come back to work here.

Sorry, England. Newson, meanwhile, was no more sanguine

Newson attacked the use of focus groups in developing products,
branding them ‘ridiculous’ and claiming that he lacks faith ‘in
consumer’s ability to know what they want’. ‘Democratisation ultimately pollutes design,’ said Newson. Meanwhile, Ive chose to lampoon designers, claiming to be ‘shocked at how disconnected so many designers are from the object, and end up doing a lousy job.’

Interesting points, from nothing less than two oracles of the discipline. Still, their complaints seem misplaced. Sure, new technologies might make bad design easier, and user oriented design processes might water down the pure visions of the original designer. But good designers will still make good work, regardless–bad design, meanwhile, has always been arbitrary. Good designers won’t be lured by the false promise of technical gimcracks, and good design has always been democratic, whether its focus grouped or not–as Apple has so masterfully proven. Meanwhile, this fetish for the gnomic design master, creating masterpieces for an uncomprehending world, drops from the lips of designers every time new technology is introduced. People said the same when young typographers could no longer cut letters into metal with their own hands. Who does that anymore?


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.