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Jonathan Ive: designer extraordinaire in the Apple revolution

Jonathan Ive: designer extraordinaire in the Apple revolution

Monday 6th October is the third anniversary of Steve Job’s death. People are still writing and talking about him. Millions use his amazing technology that transformed the way we live.

In many ways Apple was the ultimate disruptive technology. Only this summer the Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb lambasted Jobs for crushing Finland’s employment by selling innovations which caught them by surprise.

He said that Finland’s economy rested on two pillars – the IT and paper industries. The iPhone knocked out Nokia and the iPad knocked out forestry (paper).

The Modest Englishman

Sunday Times journalist John Arlidge was given a rare in-depth interview with the secretive Apple designer which was published in March

He said that the man ‘who transformed computing, phones and music with his iMac, iBook, iPhone and iPod has designed products we use to help us ‘eat, drink, sleep, work, travel, relax, read, listen, watch. shop, chat, date and have sex’ met him ‘dressed like a dad on weekends.’

Many people spend more time with his screens that with their families. His natural shyness and Apple’s ‘secrecy bordering on paranoia’ have made Ive a household name without joining the endless parade of ‘celebrities’ in our lives.

Interestingly Ive told Arlidge that he sees himself as a maker more than a designer. He said that objects and their manufacture are inseparable and a product is understood if you know how it’s made. ‘I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even begin to think what they should look like.’

As a child he took apart the family’s possessions and tried to reassemble them before going on to study industrial design at Newcastle Polytechnic. That joy of making he shared with Jobs and Arlidge wrote, ‘it helped the two men forge the most creative partnership modern capitalism has seen’, in less than 20 years it took Apple from near-bankrupt to a corporation worth over £400bn.

Attention to Detail

Ive described how he and Jobs would spend months working on a part that nobody would ever see, making the insides of machines look as good as the outsides. ‘We did it because we cared, when you realise how well you can make something, falling short, seen or not, feels like failure.’

He referred a lot to his team, deflecting attention from his own skills, ‘designing, engineering and making these products requires large teams.’ The elegant simplicity of the finished works is testimony to that philosophy of simplicity and directness. That is what has made Apple goods so revolutionary.

While many companies make all sorts of goods from fridges to cameras and computers, Apples makes only computers, entertainment devices and phones. Even the new iWatch is still within those tight bounds of product definition.

Ive told Arlidge that he starts a project by ‘imagining what a new kind of product should be and what it should do. Only then does he consider what it should look like. He draws inspiration from anything and everything – such as sweet makers for the jelly-bean translucent shades of the original iMac.

In Praise of Jobs

When asked about Jobs’ toughness, humiliating underlings, Ive responded, that he was his closest friend and it’s hard to talk about him as it doesn’t seem that long since he died. ‘He had a surgically precise opinion that could sting and he constantly questioned. But he was clever.’

Ive went on, ‘Steve’s ideas were bold and magnificent, they could suck air from the room.’ He would always believe they’d eventually make something great.

People care about products, ‘it’s not just about aesthetics, they care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made. Our success is a victory for purity, integrity – for giving a damn.’

Ive was asked ‘what’s so great about the colour white?’ His response was, ‘there’s an odd paradox with white. It’s seen as sort of a non-colour, as entirely neutral, insipid even. But there’s real gravity, significance and purity to it. Plus, to actually make products and objects in white is a very hard thing to do. It’s an extraordinarily unforgiving finish.’

Finally he was asked ‘is the best of Apple still to come?’ He answered, ‘I hope so’ before rushing back to work. Arlidge finished his article with ‘tomorrow doesn’t wait for the man who designs it.’

Other blogs about Steve Jobs and Apple:

Who’d Bet On Whether Amazon, Google or Facebook Will Achieve Global Domination Now? 28 April 2014

Steve Jobs: Two Years After His Death and People Are Still Talking, 6 October 2013

Steve Jobs: One Year On and Apple Still Counting the Money, the Fame and the Glory, 6 October 2012

A Bite of Apple News a Day Keeps the Boredom Away, 4 September 2012

Steve Jobs: Always an Iconic and Controversial Figure, Now on Stage, 14 May 2012

Image: Michael Johnston