Everyone’s weighed in on Jonathan Ives leaving Apple, and originally I didn’t have anything new to say. It sure looked like this was coming if you followed the work he was doing with Jacobs (?) on charity items, work on Apple Park from furniture to walls, etc. He may have led teams doing hardware redesigns, and was probably giving some detailed, serious (and seriously good) feedback on projects delivered to him, feedback that likely drove those designers nuts, but day-to-day Apple hardware? Maybe the Pro case? But, ultimately, I’d believe not so much.

But the release of Texas Hold ’Em, an app peak Jobsian in its appreciation of the skeuomorphic, the death of the 12" MacBook, and the rumors of Macbooks getting away from the butterfly keyboard as quickly as possible – combined with iOS 7 – gave me a distinct thought:

When the designer gets to choose the key constraints and is not given them, you risk unproductive idealism.

Ives was about minimalism. Oh, I’d love to see him write some code. It would be beautifully DRY without one wasted line. But it also might only do 80% of what the acceptance criteria requested.

iOS 7 was an interesting thought experiment: How flat can I make UI and still have it be a human-friendly UI? We got there… and a little farther. You sometimes have to cross the line to find it, and you could argue we really didn’t need to find it. But he did, and we did, and iOS has spent several years now recovering -- and has done that recovering not, as I understand it, under his leadership.

But Ives selected “flat”. Nobody was clamoring for flat. That was his constraint, his ideal, his Moby Dick. Not ours, iOS users’. That was only his.

The butterfly keyboard is similar. The MacBook Air I’m using right now, pre-butterfly, is plenty small enough. The extra ports it has make a lot of sense. It may not be a marvel of ideal design, but it is a marvel of practical design.

But that wasn’t enough for Ives’ Apple. They felt they had to find the line – for thinness. For minimalism. And then they unknowingly crossed it. It’s beautiful to have the same holes on each side of the machine, but it’s not human-friendly. It’s wonderful to have the thinest notebook ever, but not if it means that your keyboard craps outs. It’s great to have a 12“ MacBook with a beautiful ”retina" screen, but you’re telling me not only is my CPU pitifully constrained, but that I can’t use a jump drive and my power supply at the same time?

Who said we needed thinner notebooks and flatter UIs? Nobody. These were design goals – design contraintspicked by the designer. So much of a notebook’s design aren't elective constraints, but inherent ones for the device. That we need human-sized keys on the keyboard. That we need screens designed for the human eye. That we need the processing power to run a modern OS. That our antennae must get adequate WiFi signal. That our batteries last for a work day plus.

But those real-world, human constraints operate against Ives’ elective constraints of minimalism and thinness. He stopped designing for the world and started pursuing ideals. Some of those just happened to work fine with users – the iPhone is as much fashion as practical computer, after all, and we would all yet benefit from still smaller slabs in our pockets. We have not yet reached the functional peak of thinness for phones. We have with laptops.

Same with computer and phone screens' resolutions: We are now to the peak, where it’s almost impossible to see pixels with the naked eye, at least for someone who’s not nearsighted. Ives' ideals were useful there (and luckily even he realizes "more than more than the eye can see" has no practical value), but on the thinness & flatness fronts the Ives train has played itself out.

And it was at that point of idealism that Ives ceased being a good leader for the largest company by revenue in the world, one that ultimately sells devices to actual humans trying to get daily work done.

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