Apple's Jony Ive: copycat designs are theft


It’s a little sad that the article basically serves as a platform for parroting Ive’s ignorance rather than perhaps calling into question the idea that a rounded rectangle of a particular size is in any way a unique design that required weekends away from your family.


It’s even more sad that a guy like Ive - who built a career on a good bit of “resampling” the work and ideas of Dieter Rams - is getting on a soapbox about “copycat” designs.

Maybe he can do side-by-side comparisons of his own work and explain where the line is between ‘inspiration’ and ‘copying’.


That’s easy… inspiration is when your products with designs that are similar to other’s are making tons of money for your company.

Copying is when other companies’ products that are similar to your designs are starting to be preferred by a noticeable segment of the market.


What’s unique design?

Apropos of nothing if I had any design skills I would start a company called Plato’s Forms. Or is my pop understanding of Plato’s theory of Forms twisted?


He is so pretentious…

Seriously!! And Rams has publicly acknowledged him as a really thoughtful disciple of his work. What a shame that I have to hold this guy up as a great example of design to my design students.

I’ve always thought Ive’s design work looked like the generic version of a thing. Designs so lacking in style and texture that they all appear to be cheap copies of something else seem to be his ideal.


Inspiration (“Research”) is when you look at a lot of things and take the best parts from them.
Copying (“Plagiarism”) is when you take only from one thing.

At least that’s how I understood papers in college worked.


Whenever I hear articles about design theft it always reminds me of the Krusty way back when.
“If this is anyone other than Steve Allen, you’re stealing my bit!”
– Krusty the Klown


Does this remind anyone else of any recent watch design?

That’s the thing about Apple designs. On the one hand, they are elegant because there’s so little to them - ornamentation is not necessarily a pleasant thing. On the other hand, there’s nothing there. A rounded rectangle with a round button at lower center. It’s as if a no-parking sign was a computer. (Jobs acknowledges being inspired to add the rounded rectangle to QuickDraw in the early eighties after walking down the street and noticing that shape is used in signs.)


I don’t know. Does it?

To me, there are quite a lot of differences–though both are minimalist designs. The problem with minimalist designs, from the perspective of artistry, is that at some point, it all comes down to proportions-- if the proportions are different, the designs are different.


It is not the design - it is the design process… Every design starts as an invisible beach ball and gets whittled down from there.


I don’t think its ignorance, its dressed up as ignorance so he doesn’t have to admit to hypocrisy.

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I’m not a particular fan; but there is one aspect of Apple’s operation (and the realities of volume manufacturing techniques generally) that makes this aesthetic rather potent:

In order to achieve a lack of texture and detail, on an assembly that might have dozens to hundreds of parts, all needing to be machined or injection molded at relatively high speed and low cost, you need impressive control over mechanical tolerances and material properties.

Take Apple’s fondness for glossy white plastics: glossy is pitiless about revealing every mold line, thermal irregularity(large flat surfaces are particularly bad: just check the reflections and you’ll notice any distortion of the surface immediately) or other defect. White plastics are especially touchy about uniform opacity and complete absence of colored contaminants from your material.

Their handling of metal is a similar story: if you look at the G4 Powerbooks, you’ll notice a lot of grey plastic bits placed at the seams where aluminum parts meet. In newer designs, they’ve progressively eliminated those in favor of metal-metal contact with only a very narrow, very uniform, hairline gap, if that.

Whether you like the result or not, those sorts of designs are only doable if you have good control over the quality and mechanical tolerances of your manufacturing operation, and the resources to pay extra for that. It’s one of the reasons why knock-offs of ‘Apple aesthetic’ tend to look so cheap and nasty: so much of the aesthetic is “There’s no there here, and you wouldn’t believe how much trouble we went to to make sure of that”, which leaves the lower-margin imitations without details to emulate; but without the resources to ensure pure uniformity where the real thing would have had it.

You needn’t like it, and I don’t particularly; but it’s a very clever alignment of what makes your aesthetic distinctive with what makes your manufacturing capabilities distinctive (at least at the mass-market-PC price point: outfits fabbing monocrystalline high temperature turbines for military jet engines probably laugh; but you can’t buy one of their turbine blades for under a couple thousand bucks at a retail store).

As ‘design’, I give Apple credit for not just pasting tacky shit on, something PC OEMs are surprisingly tempted by; but don’t actually like them much. As ‘industrial design’, having anything but respect for their operation would be intellectually dishonest.


Honestly, none of the ‘smart watch’ designs are nearly good enough for that to remind me of them.

(In fairness, the ‘smart watch’ obviously has a lot more hardware and battery it needs to hide; but the aesthetic comparison is not a flattering one for any of them.)

Ah, the Where wolves fuck school of design.


Well played, sir.

(Incidentally, I wonder what sort of hilarious scratch-pattern you’d get from the amorous claws of wolves skittering and copulating on a large polycarbonate surface? If I were a bad-boy modern artist I’d sense my next paycheck rolling in…)


Apple, pretentious? Ohtheirgods! Someone alert the press!