Co.Design

4 Things We Learned From This Rare Interview With Apple Design God Jonathan Ive

Great design is a demonstration against thoughtlessness and carelessness, says the legendary iPhone designer in an interview with the Sunday Times.

Apple's rock star designer Jony Ive has given the Sunday Times (subscription required) a rare interview, talking about his partnership with Steve Jobs, his design philosophies, the importance of craftsmanship, and more. It's a rare peek inside one of the century's greatest design minds. Here are some of the takeaways:


You Understand A Product If You Understand How It's Made

One of the things that Ive puts his finger on very precisely is what is, to the design-minded, perhaps the most important aspect of Apple's success: that a company has managed to take the deep commitment to form and integrity that is at the heart of the most timeless designs, and make it attainable to a mass-market audience.

“We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. It’s tempting to think it’s because the people who use them don’t care—just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care," Ive says. "It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well-made. We make and sell a very, very large number of (hopefully) beautiful, well-made things. Our success is a victory for purity, integrity—for giving a damn ... It's a demonstration against thoughtlessness and carelessness.”

Ive says he thinks that we are living in an age of craft. People care about how things work, and how they function.

“Objects and their manufacture are inseparable. You understand a product if you understand how it’s made,” he says. “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. More and more people do. There is a resurgence of the idea of craft."

Patrons Matter

After decades in which mass-production and shoddy craftsmanship were synonymous, design is being democratized. Anyone who can afford an iPhone can own an object that has had every bit as much thought put into its craftsmanship as an Eames Lounge Chair, or any other example of uncompromised design.

And for that, Jony Ive is as responsible as his great enabler, Steve Jobs. Ive is open about the fact that he would never have been able to achieve many of his designs without the support of Steve Jobs.

“When we were looking at objects, what our eyes physically saw and what we came to perceive were exactly the same," Ive says. "And we would ask the same questions, have the same curiosity about things.”

Of his friendship with Steve Jobs, Ive says: “So much has been written about Steve, and I don’t recognize my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a surgically precise opinion. Yes, it could sting. Yes, he constantly questioned. ‘Is this good enough? Is this right?’ but he was so clever. His ideas were bold and magnificent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. And, oh, the joy of getting there!”

Copycats Are Theft

Asked about what he thinks about copycat devices, like Samsung's Galaxy series of smartphones and tablets, Jony Ive is extremely blunt.

“It’s theft. What’s copied isn’t just a design, it’s thousands and thousands of hours of struggle. It’s only when you’ve achieved what you set out to do that you can say, ‘This was worth pursuing.’ It takes years of investment, years of pain.”

To Ive, it's not just how an object looks, or even functions, but the process by which it was designed. Those "years of pain" are part of an iPhone's design that can never be copied, but are there nonetheless. It is what determines a design's authenticity; the difference between a Galaxy and an iPhone, to Ive, is the agony that went into creating something truly new.

The Best Devices Are Yet To Come

While Ive would not comment on future Apple products, he was dismissive of the idea that Apple's best days were behind it.

Asked about the iWatch, Ive coyly replied. “Obviously, there are rumors about us working on … and, obviously, I’m not going to talk about that. It’s a game of chess, isn’t it?”

Even if Apple isn't working on an iWatch, Ive says that Apple has a portfolio of new products in the pipeline. Asked if he would quit if he believed that Apple could no longer define entirely new categories of devices, Ive replied: “Yes. I’d stop. I’d make things for myself, for my friends at home instead. The bar needs to be high."

That said, Ive doesn't think that's going to happen. "We are at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products will be developed. When you think about technology and what it has enabled us to do so far, and what it will enable us to do in future, we’re not even close to any kind of limit. It’s still so, so new.”

Jony Ive's full interview has been republished here.

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10 Comments

  • 3/4 of that interview are from Ive's speech at Jobs memorial, almost verbatim. I think the interview was rather quick, but the reporter was forced to deliver (as the article implies) the fist in-depth talk with him, so he stole things from that speech. Such a shame.

  • Victor Ng Thow Hing

    I just read the original article - one point that Ives made, which wasn't include in the list of what was learned here was this excerpt:

    He talks constantly about his team or Jobs, using “we.” This is not “aw-shucks” false modesty or corporate-speak. “I don’t like being singled out for attention. Designing, engineering and making these products requires large teams,” he says.

    Many times, the various groups of design, engineering and quality control think of themselves as islands, and look with some disdain on the other groups. Successful designers, like Ive understand the entire process has to be in sync to produce the finished process - and it is important that each stage is done at the highest level with communication and feedback between each team.

  • Van Man

    Do me a favour fastco, tell Ives to s*ck it! He stole liberally from Braun and a great designer like Dieter Rams and now whines if Samsung 'stole' his designs.

  • Christopher Hydinger

    i absolutely agree with you. ive/apple quite literally owes his/its entire visual language to the likes of rams and other rationalist german thinkers/designers. this is both well-documented and indisputable.

  • I admire Ives and his work, but let's not describe ANY celebrity or master of craft or artist as a deity. That being said, Ive's comments indicate he's not only a masterful designer, but an astute business person and marketer. Those who believe him to be no more than an iterator are obviously ignorant of the history of his work. Before Apple and Jony Ive, we all computed on beige boxes. Although the candy colored iMacs seem a tad garish now, at the time, they were revolutionary and forced an entire industry and a generation of consumers to question why technology had, up until that point, been boring, imposing, unfriendly, unfashionable, and generally utilitarian and inaccessible to the masses. Without Ive's work, in collaboration with the brilliant and boundary pushing Jobs, we might all still be typing away on the equivalent of digitized typewriters housed in boring boxes of clumsily stipple textured shades of off white or grey... reading in Times New Roman font.

  • Emanuele Piz

    I would have brought the discussion on the ethical implications of this super fast technological revolution we're living. It seems everyone has no doubt that everything related with technology is -by defoult- generating freedom and equity. I think this lack of awareness is terrible and potentially devastating.

  • Evan Jacobs

    Design God? That's a bit of a stretch.

    Master of iterative design? That's more like it.