jony ive airbnb

Why did Airbnb hire Jony Ive?

The rental firm has been hit hard by the pandemic - can the designer help revive its fortunes?

If your mornings are set in motion by the sharp sonics of your iPhone’s alarm, your right thumb has retained the muscle memory from the period in which it ceaselessly caressed the halo-like scroll wheel of an iPod (perhaps the second most important wheel in history) and you often find yourself mentally undressing your MacBook’s packaging in the Uber back from the Apple store, then you are probably accustomed to the visual lexicon of Sir Jony Ive.

Ive, the one-time lead designer at Apple, is widely hailed as the custodian of the most recognisable desktop and pocketable devices of our time – from the 1998 iMac to several generations of the iPod, iPhone and Apple Watch – and late last month it was announced that the 53-year-old will now offer his creative services to Airbnb.

After having quit the Cupertino giant in 2019 to open his own creative agency, LoveFrom, Ive is now set “to design the next generation of Airbnb products and services”, which will include an overhaul of its website and app. An upgrade to the current rating system, which screens guests and properties, will be one of the first tasks in the Brit’s in tray, according to the BBC.

News of the “special collaboration” between Airbnb and LoveFrom was first revealed in a blogpost by the holiday rental platform’s chief exec, Brian Chesky, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, and a long-term friend of Ive. “We each believe not only in making objects and interfaces, but in crafting services and experiences,” Chesky wrote. “We’ve seen how design can facilitate trust and enable more human connection, something people are desperate for during an unprecedented time of loneliness and disconnection. We have made the decision to work together through a multi-year relationship.”

jony ive airbnb
Jony Ive. Image courtesy Gary Cohen

Although co-founder Steve Jobs – who viewed Ive as his “spiritual partner” – is often synonymous with the Apple name, the general public often fail to recognise that it was the British creative who played an integral role in pioneering the tech company’s less-is-more aesthetic. (Shortly following the news of Ive’s departure, Apple’s stock dropped by around 1% in after-hours trading.)

Born in Chingford, in north-east London, Ive studied industrial design at Newcastle Polytechnic, and it was there he first conceived a concept for a video phone. Following graduation, he cut his teeth at London design consultancy Tangerine, where he not only worked on projects for LG and bathroom firm Ideal Standard, but also contributed to the original Apple PowerBook 140, which debuted in 1991. Ive eventually became a full-time Apple employee in 1992, joining its industrial design group, and rose among the ranks to lead the design team, from 1996 to 2019, when he ended his 27-year-long tenure as chief design officer.

His first smash hit – the iconic 1998 iMac, whose ‘Bondi Blue’ translucent plastic casing broke away from the market’s uninspiring grey boxes – was later joined by a conveyor belt of other landmark products, including the iPod (2001), the iPhone (2007) and the Apple Watch (2015). Ive’s fingerprints can also be found beyond the sphere of hardware design, having lent his hand in producing iOS 7, Apple’s 2013 operating system. Out went the skeuomorphism-style icons and in came the flatter, cleaner user interface to which we are accustomed today.

The designer was also a central figure in Apple’s architectural ventures, collaborating with Foster + Partners on Apple Park – the $5 billion spacecraft-style HQ – and assisting Angela Ahrendts, the former retail chief, with updating the aesthetic and feel of its physical stores, a task that included further refining product packaging. “Don’t mess with the tables,” Ive also advised.

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