• Book Review: Apple Design

    Bucking the trend of bland consumer electronics companies, Apple has made its name through a synergy between well-made hardware and thoughtfully crafted software – and, of course, world-leading industrial design.

    Apple design, driven by Senior Vice-President of Industrial Design Sir Jonathan 'Jony' Ive since 1997, is found almost universally pleasing to the eye and easy to use, and has been shamelessly copied by both cowboy and mainstream CE companies.

    But why? Why has Apple succeeded where others have failed? The book Apple Design, from German publisher Hatje Cantz and translated into English, answers this question thorough a series of thought-provoking essays and an extensive gallery of all the products designed for Apple by Ive from 1997 to 2011.

    The genesis of the book lies in the exhibition Stylectrical: On Electro-Design that Makes History at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (the Museum of Arts and Crafts), which presented an overall picture of "all the products that have been designed under Ive as head of the design team" at Apple.

    But it's anything but a dry, catalogue-style adjunct to the MKG exhibition; it's a fascinating insight into Apple design and, through that, into the company itself.

    "Apple Computer, Inc. has never developed an entirely new electronic product," writes MKG modern collection curator Ina Grätz, "it invented neither the computer nor the MP3 player nor even the cellphone. That these devices from the company are nevertheless considered to be among the most innovative of our time can be explained above all on the basis of their design."

    But that design, as art critic and essayist Thomas Wagner explains, not only applies to the outer shell of the products made by Apple, "it also encompasses a wide range of activities such as working, communicating, presenting, watching films and videos, listening to music and much more.

    "What is designed in principle is a worldview or a lifestyle, a process, that is shaped by the synthesis of perceptions and actions ... in this respect, Apple stands in a line with the utopian projects of modernism such as Bauhaus, De Stijl and Minimal Art."

    They and other essayists go on to explore Apple products from just about every angle you could imagine, looking at the company's fundamental principals of design, the materials used (and why), the marketing behind the brand, and even the architecture of the Apple Stores.

    It's not all roses ... architect Friedrich von Borries contributes a 'pamphlet' titled The Apple Design Lie: Why the Design of Apple is neither Good nor Minimalist, in which he criticises Apple design through comparison with Braun designer Dieter Rams' Ten Principles for Good Design.

    He holds nothing back, concluding: "Apple conceals the shortcomings of our time under its allegedly minimalist design, which is supposed to remind us of the positive, pioneering spirit of modernism. And we love Apple for exactly this reason: Under the aestheticised surface of the Apple products, we cover up the life-lies of our consumer society."

    All these essays are illustrated through examples of Ives' products, and the last two-thirds of the book are devoted to beautiful picture spreads of every one from the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh to the iPad 2. There's also an illustrated timeline.

    For this review we received the hardback version of the book which, unfortunately, went out of print relatively quickly. The soft-cover version is available, however.

    It's a brilliant book that should be snapped up by lovers of industrial design and intelligent writing, and by Apple geeks who should give it pride of place on the bookshelf next to titles such as Steve Jobs and iCon.

    Apple Design
    Publisher: Hatje Cantz Verlag
    Distributor: Books at Manic Distribution
    RRP: $73.50
    ISBN: 9783775733298

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