Apple gave The New Yorker‘s Ian Parker unprecedented access to the company’s design lab this year, and what resulted was a fascinating and bizarre look at arguably the most influential designer of our age — whose reach even extends to the new Star Wars.
The design studio inside Apple is “happily isolated, like a spa or a Scandinavian prison”, says Parker, who describes how Ive’s influence in the company has evolved over the years. Towards the beginning of the story, we get an anecdote about a boozy famous-people dinner that brought Ive and J.J. Abrams together, where they talked about lightsaber design. According to Abrams, Ive suggestions about making the weapon a bit rougher and less exact led to the “crossguard” lightsaber in the poured-over trailer. The idea, says Ive, was “more analogue and more primitive, and I think, in that way, somehow more ominous.”
There are plenty of other mind-boggling details in Parker’s story, and it’s well-worth a full read. Some of the most intriguing bits come from Ive’s studio’s work with manufacturing. MoMA’s Paola Antonelli says, “an Apple object is “manufactured in a way that makes it harder to copy.” Parker continues:
When, in 2007, Robert Brunner first saw a MacBook’s “unibody” housing — made, unprecedentedly, out of a milled block of aluminium — it was a “mind-blowing epiphany,” he said. Apple “had decided that this was the experience they wanted, so they went out and bought ten thousand C.N.C. milling machines.” (Apple didn’t confirm that figure, but Brunner was not being hyperbolic.)
The emphasis on manufacturing is paired with a goofy and sincere emphasis on experience, though:
A few years ago, Ive and his colleagues assessed each prototype size of the future iPhone 6 by carrying them around for days. “The first one we really felt good about was a 5.7,” he recalled. “And then, sleeping on it, and coming back to it, it was just ‘Ah, that’s way too big.’ And then 5.6 still seems too big.” (As Cook described that process, “Jony didn’t pull out of his butt the 4.7 and the 5.5.”)