Two years in, just when I thought it was time for the public to move past Steve and learn to show more appreciation towards the team behind Apple’s products, a biography on Jony Ive came about. I couldn’t resist.
About two chapters into the book, it became apparent that Kahney really didn’t have a lot of insight into Ive as a person, and wasn’t exactly sure how to position his character against the backdrop of events happened during Apple’s resurgence. Portrayals of Ive’s character were mostly one-dimensional, with bits of quotes lifted from interviews and promotional videos, peppered with forced observations from the author on how Ive’s words or design choices showed traces of his upbringing or echoed influences from his father. Indeed, throughout the book, the narrative had attempted but failed to shake the impression that it was a chronological collection of sound bites surrounding this public figure named Jony Ive. Apple followers wouldn’t come away feeling they got to know Ive any better than before.
While it faltered on bringing Ive’s character to life, the book was quite a fascinating read as it went to lengths to elaborate on the meticulous product inception and manufacturing processes in Apple’s ID group, thanks to insider information from former team members like Doug Satzger. For readers who have an intrinsic appreciation of great craftsmanship and thoughtful thinking, and often wondered how certain design decisions on Apple products were made, they would find themselves in for a treat. Several chapters were literally devoted to imaginary iFixit tear down sessions of products like the early iMacs and iBooks, with narrations from the designers and engineers on the challenges they faced and the countless prototypes they built and scrapped. The progression of the team’s thought process and display of dedication was nothing short of staggering. These accounts also served as a dummy’s guide to Industrial Design and how it meant more than the typical view of some designers doodling out radically shaped gadgets in random. Here’s an excerpt that demonstrates such moments of brilliance, from Chapter 12 – Unibody Everywhere:
“For a laptop body, the first part of the process is to create a block of extruded aluminum from a billet (a big round tube) of raw aluminum. The billet is put through a giant hot press that, as if making flat noodles from a ball of dough, creates an extrusion into a sheet of aluminum.
The aluminum sheet then begins a trip through thirteen separate milling operations to get it into its final shape. The metal is cut into rectangular blocks the size of the laptop. It goes into the first CNC machine, where a laser drill creates a series of registration holes that guide the next cutting operation, a rough “hogging out” that removes the majority of the unwanted material.”
Great works of art make bold statements and challenge viewers to re-consider their established conceptions. Without going that far, this book did convey how Apple designers and engineers fought relentless battles with no-one but themselves for something as arbitrary as quality and innovation. It’s true that none of us would have that level of luxury and resources at our disposal to labor on every detail of the things that we do, but we can surely learn to appreciate great feats of engineering and craftsmanship when we see one. As J.J. Abrams said in a TED talk, the notebooks made by Apple scream of such quality that it almost demands you to do better work worthy of their creators’ efforts.
So let’s go do better work.