In a recent interview, The New Yorker gained unprecedented access to Apple’s head of design Jony Ive, revealing more about the man and the company than ever before.
Ive has created some of the most recognisable and iconic objects of our age, but Apple’s head designer has always been something of an enigma. The Briton behind the iMac and the iPod is usually as secretive about himself as Apple is about its products, but recently he and the tech giant gave unprecedented access for a New Yorker article.
The piece itself is fairly lengthy, so true Ive style; we have simplified it and given you the key facts:
- Ive has a lot of famous friends including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, U2’s Bono, Massive Attack, Yo-Yo Ma, designers Paul Smith and Marc Newson, director JJ Abrams and Stephen Fry to name a small handful.
- Thanks to his friendship with JJ Abrams, Ive had a hand in the design of the new Star Wars lightsabers.
- In fact, Ive is not unfamiliar with getting involved in a bit of filmmaking. Jobs gave him special dispensation to remove himself from public speaking, instead swapping them for appearances in scripted videos. And despite Apple having one of the most polished images and highly tuned corporate public relations teams, Ive’s presentation video for the launch of the Apple Watch was largely directed and edited by him.
- Ive’s career has not always been son glamorous. Before he started at Apple in 1992 he worked for a design consultancy called Tangerine in London. There, Ive designed the Macintosh Folio tablet concept for Apple, which had a stylus and an adjustable angled screen, as well as a sink, toilet and bath for British bathroom firm Ideal Standard. “It was a very, very simple bowl, and the rim was thick but it twisted,” he said. “It was sort of tipped open at the front.”
- Now Ive has a 12-foot square glass walled office with a Banksy print of the Queen with the face of a chimpanzee, and a poster saying, “Believe in your fucking self. Stay up all fucking night. Think about all the fucking possibilities,” on the wall. His office is in Apple’s design studio, protected by a 10-foot-long internal vestibule, to ensure prototypes and designs are kept top secret.
- Jobs’s office and Ive’s lab used to be linked by a special corridor.
- Apple has three specialist recruiters who hire designers, and they only hire one a year. The tech firm has a core of 19 international industrial designers who work 12-hour days starting about 6am. They are forbidden from discussing any of their work with the outside world. Only about one a year joins and in the last 15 years, only two have left, one through ill health.
- When Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, Ive had his resignation letter in his pocket. Ive said he assumed his job was forfeit and a new design head would be brought in, but they instantly hit it off: “It was the most bizarre thing, where we were both perhaps a little – a little bit odd. We weren’t used to clicking.” Jobs visited the design studio and told them: “Fuck, you’ve not been very effective, have you?” But by the end of that day they started collaborating on the iMac, which Jobs insisted should be “lickable”.
- It was Jobs that brought in Apple’s skeuomorphism, and Ive never liked it. Leather skeumorphism was ditched when Ive took control of Apple’s iOS. Jobs liked digital facsimiles of analogue designs - the fake leather stitching of iCal for example, but Ive was never a fan.
- Ive is (unsurprisingly) obsessive about the little things - especially about corners, rounded corners. Powell Jobs (Steve’s wife) says Ive and Jobs would discuss corners “for hours and hours”.
- His obsession with detail means Apple campus is going to have awesome elevator controls. Even buttons in the lift are a target for redesign by Ive. Ive says he had “a big fight” over simplifying the control panels for the buildings’ Mitsubishi lifts. No need to ask who won.
- Ive is co-designing Apple’s new campus. Apple’s new “spaceship” campus is being designed by Ive in collaboration with Foster + Partners.
- Not even Ive could stop the protruding camera lens on the iPhone 6. When asked about the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus camera lens sticking out of the back of the phones, which allows them to be thinner overall but not sit flat on a table, Ive simply said it was “a really very pragmatic optimisation.”
- It took Ive three years to settle on the screen sizes for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
- Had Ive had his way, the iPad would have been released before the iPhone. Ive was the driving force for the iPad, which he thought Apple should make before the iPhone. Jobs overruled, saying the iPhone would introduce people to the concept of touchscreen control in a more familiar form factor – he said the iPad first would have had people deal with both a new category of computer and a new way of interacting with it.
- Despite his line of work, he has strict screen time rules for his kids. Ive’s twin ten-year-old boys are prevented from accessing the iPad at certain times of the day.
- Ive still pronounces “aluminium” the British way despite living in San Francisco.
- Ive has got a penchant for cars (so maybe those Apple Car rumours aren’t so far fetched after all). He is in fact a bit of a car nut attending the Goodwood Festival of Speed every year. He owns an Aston Martin DB4 and owned his first Bentley 10 years ago. He commutes an hour to work every day in another Bentley - which is chauffeur-driven. (He says the reasons for liking Bentleys are “entirely design-based” and he “resisted and resisted” due to the other connotations.)
- The first model of the Apple Watch took six weeks to design, but it took Ive a year to settle on the interchangeable watchstraps. In Ive’s view, people are “OK to a degree, with carrying an identical smartphone to millions of other people, but a watch needs to be more unique.”
- There’s a very good design reason as to why the Apple Watch’s ‘digital crown’ isn’t where you would expect it. The “digital crown” is positioned off to one side due to the fact that it’s a new product, with different functions compared with a traditional timepiece. Ive felt that replicating that design wouldn’t make sense.
- And of course the face isn’t round for a good reason too. When displaying lines of text is the purpose, the screen has to be square according to Ive.
- Talking of faces, apparently the face is ‘the wrong place’ for technology. Apple was working on a watch before Google revealed its smartglasses, but even so it was clear to Ive that the face “was the wrong place” and that the wrist was “the obvious and right place” for a notification device. As Cook adds, the device on the wrist “isn’t obnoxious” and doesn’t act as a barrier between people.
- Finally, at school Ive was nicknamed ‘Tiny’. When he was 13, as Ive puts it: “I was as big as I am now”.