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The & Of Jony Ive.

by Jamal Cassim

5 min read

Lessons in serif.

It pains me our aesthetic is so dead.

I’m bored of modern monoculture. Identikit interiors in faceless buildings, identical cars force-designed by wind tunnels and safety regs.

I’m finding it hard to enjoy another dumb-ass on-trend brand, drinking in the same vibe coffee shop, listening to the same Spotify playlist all over the world, hearing the same Youtube accent.

“Personalisation” fails when we all want the same bland shit.

Read this superb piece by Alex Murrell: even our faces are converging. Culture is stuck.

Whose fault?

We could blame global tastemaking, or algorithms; consumer testing done without the necessary imaginative leap to insight; echo chambers on the internet. We could blame laziness. Too much secular guilt, a lack of ionisation in the upper atmosphere, disbelief in The Muses. The invention of copy-paste.

A culture of optimisation has smoothed rough edges into blah.

If you’re in the commercial arts, you’re complicit.

Maybe you’ve fudged a bit of blanding yourself, rushed out cliché, participated in pseudocraft by making a killer case study for deeply average work — baby… yeah, it’s we… we’re the problem.

Nobody meant for this. We all wanted to do a good job. But we didn’t fight, not hard enough, just tried really hard and made it to the next day.

To some, it was never that important anyway; to engineers, just an output to be solved.

So… same trend, same look, same vibe, same type, same face, same life.

And the same kind of phone, designed by that guy.

You know how I feel about Jony Ive’s voice.


But… I’ve had my doubts about him sometimes. There are moments I think he boldly carries the torch of his influences… others when I wonder if he’s just an imitator, a thief, Dieter’s little bitch.

And there were misses. Oh lawd there were misses.

So was he really talented enough to change the game, or just lucky enough to have Steve Jobs in his corner, giving him the political heft to be a purist?

Whether he’s a good designer or not ain’t it (that judgment is not mine to make).

Let me put it like this. I write — and I like Paul Auster: a writer’s writer. Auster’s fiction constructs narratives built around the process of writing. Much time and effort is spent detailing the writing process itself, the protagonists are often writers (sometimes Auster), there are stories within stories, books within the book; reality starts to reflect the sentences handwritten into a particular journal, say, or…events take on a fictional quality, full of cosmic coincidences. He secretly follows the artist Sophie Calle around the city for a few months, creating a story where it isn’t really clear what’s real and what’s fiction; later she makes a companion piece about being followed.

Auster’s writing takes pleasure not only in the storytelling, but the telling of its own story.

Jony Ive has always struck me as similar – a designer’s designer. They say the outcome is an advert for the process, but he makes the process itself a greater part of the beauty.

A Macbook is a lovely piece of design, embedded with the knowledge that its manufacture was inspired by the unibody shell of an Aston Martin DB9. The Air borrowed techniques from trips to Japan where Ive and his team secretly studied the finer arts of Japanese sword-making.

There’s a mythic quality to this bullshit; how Jony spent hours in candy factories to inspire colours for the plastic iMacs, or designed a monitor stand by examining the stalks of sunflowers.

It feels like his development of anything involves an excessive amount of piss-taking study and craft.

This is a fetishistic approach to the process; an utterly indulgent, time-consuming, money-burning spectacle of deliberation to the creative craft, a process as it should be, somehow blurring the line between commerciality and art. It is painstaking, pretentious, unnecessary, overbearing, masturbatory.

It’s marvellous.

And so the LoveFrom work dodges the obvious.

There was a diamond ring carved into a single solid form, the Terra Carta seal, the King Charles III royal marque, Steve Jobs Make Something Wonderful.

All of them kind of… off-trend, exacting, slow.

Playing in semi-unglamorous spaces that are long games, thinking that’s made to last.

Look —

— a little more dirt, it could have been from 100 years ago.

For the LoveFrom serif, the team spent four years retooling Baskerville, that old number (classsic Jony).

The ex-Apple bullshitters were out in full force with this one — insane curve measurement, precision-machined ink traps, “adding velocity”, going back to the original Baskerville metal stamps for accuracy, etc.

An ampersand that’s a work of art.

(I appreciate this enthusiastic write-up from FastCompany).

What can we take?

Play the same games, you get to the same place.

Monoculture emerges when we’re distracted competing against each other, rather than creating the processes we wish existed that drive our whole movement forward.

Under pressure, fighting the world, each other, over-optimising, we’re so busy striving for existence that we end up in zero-sum games of self-promotion, under-pricing, pitching, rushed work, copy-paste, bullshitting, and awards bait — all because they work.

They get us to the next day, maybe even to the top, or near enough.

Do I declare myself immune from this? Never!

But in taking each selfish win, we diminish the game.

Seeing Ive out front helps redefine the rules of play. He sets a precedent for what could be; creates parameters so far from the norm, it gives everyone else room to negotiate. We can love or hate the work he does, his pretension, his ponderous baritone — but it would’ve been easy for someone so prominent to just bask, instead of role-modelling better.

Instead — no trends, slow forms, timeless outcomes. Built from a process that gives an atom of hope to the junior designer working their arse off alone at 2am as their craft is slowly eroded out of existence by margins and Midjourney.

Four years on an ampersand.

When AI annihilates average, it’ll be this 1% of 1% of ardour that stands a chance.

The further we go in our journeys, the more we have a responsibility to excellence in our art, but also to the game and how we play it.

Are we all playing to win… or playing so well, we all win?

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Jamal Cassim

→ A proven business leader to some of the world’s most innovative and successful B2B and government brands including AGL, CommBank, WorkSafe and the BBC.

 Jamal’s multifaceted experience includes the practical application of insight into meaningful growth strategies, processes and digital products. From start-ups to blue-chip businesses, he’s helped launch ideas, scale teams, revitalise systems, and worked with business leaders to level-up their models and approach to brand experience.

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