Jony Ive, simplicity, and the inevitability of Beethoven by Leonard Bernstein

USA Today released today a really interesting interview with Jony Ive and Craig Federighi. Despite the new products being brought up at a certain point, the interview focuses much more on Apple’s culture and their motivations. At a certain point, Ive says the following regarding the simplicity of his design:

“Simplicity is, well, it goes back to …you’re trying to define the essence of something and come up with a solution that seems utterly inevitable and obvious. I think a lot of people see simplicity as the lack of clutter. And that’s not the case at all. True simplicity is, well, you just keep on going and going until you get to the point where you go, ‘Yeah, well, of course.’ Where there’s no rational alternative.”

This reminded me of a 1954 video where Leonard Bernstein talks about this exact same thing, while he explores the drafts with parts that ended up getting left out of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. It is an amazing video and I strongly encourage you to dedicate 6 minutes of your day to it. But the part that i was reminded of is exactly that where Bernstein talks about the inevitability of the right note:

“The composer has to have an inner roadmap. He has got to know what the next note has to be. A sense that whatever note succeeds the last is the only possible note that can rightly happen at that instant. (…) Imagine a lifetime of this struggle, movement after movement, always this constant dedication to perfection, to the concept of inevitability.”

What I find particularly interesting about this video is that it shows that even the things that to us seem perfectly natural, as the notes sequence in Beethoven’s 5th, didn’t happen by sheer chance. A lot of work was put into it and several paths and alternatives were explored.

Beethoven rewrote some passages up to 20 times until he reached that result that seems so perfect to us, so natural and inevitable, that it actually hides the countless abandoned paths and endlessly re-written sequences. That’s exactly what Ive promotes with his constant exercise in simplicity. Look at your iPhone again. Does it seem different to you now?

Share Button