When Apple held its public "Celebrating Steve" memorial, it’s no coincidence that the eulogy was delivered by Jonathan Ive. Promoted by Jobs to Senior Vice President of Industrial Design in 1997, Ive oversaw the product design of Apple’s incredibly successful return to power. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg is running a retrospective exhibition that examines the history of Apple’s industrial design under Ive. The exhibit is curated from a cultural studies context and is a wide survey that ranges from formal influences to the economic effects of Apple’s iconic products.
The big attraction of the exhibition is the museum’s comprehensive collection. They boast that it contains every product produced by Apple under Ive. This includes iconic devices like the iPod, and the Bondi Blue iMac as well as more humble products like the Airport Express or the Apple battery charger. They are particularly proud of some of their more obscure finds, such as the eMate300, a laptop from 1997 designed to be used in schools or the iMac Blue Dalmatian, with one of the stranger chassis patterns I’ve seen on an Apple product.
The exhibit also features examples of products that influenced Ive, most notably Dieter Rams’ iconic Braun designs along with examples of products whose look and feel were plainly influenced by Apple, such as Nintendo’s clear-cased Game Boy.
Stylectrical aims to reveal more than just the formal look of industrial design. "To give a product its shape goes well beyond Luis Sullivan’s often-quoted phrase 'form follows function,'" says the press release. "Various demands such as material, form, aesthetics, function, handling and usage must be taken into account during the design process and combined."
In the accompanying book, a variety of authors consider the impact of these demands on Ive’s work at Apple, looking at the materials that shaped the products, the impact of Apple’s retail environments, or the influences that tie Apple to Braun and Apple to California. It even has a point by point grading of Ive’s adherence to Dieter Rams’ 10 principles for good design. The author, architect Friedrich von Borries, doesn’t come away impressed.
For example, he looks the iPad’s lack of a Flash player and sees a failure to meet rule #2 "Good design makes a product useful." He looks at Apple’s brief rejection of a political cartoons app and sees an adherence to rule #8 "Good design is thorough, down to the last detail" that is dangerously tyrannical. Given that no one has managed to ship a product with a mobile Flash player that works well and that Adobe discontinued development and given that Apple updated its policies to allow political cartoons, these arguments are pretty unconvincing.
They are all the more unconvincing, because Rams himself gave the company high marks in an interview here on Fast Co. Design.
"For me it’s a compliment that they use the basic thinking about what design can be and how it would use new technologies," he told us, "and that is what I tried also, especially with my main work at Braun."