Interview: Jonathan Ive, Apple's creative force

Interview: Jonathan Ive, Apple's creative force

Summary: Apple's design chief Jonathan Ive gave his first in-depth interview to John Arlidge of the Sunday Times in London and describes what motivates and troubles him

SHARE:
TOPICS: Apple, iOS, iPad
12

He's notoriously introverted, he shuns the spotlight and he doesn't give interviews. In fact, Apple's Senior Vice President of Design – Jonathan 'Jony' Ive – refuses speak publicly about the company at all, save a smattering of carefully-scripted promotional videos in which he gushes over newly minted products.

ive_hero20110204
(Image: Apple)

The reclusive and secretive Ive granted his first in-depth interview to John Arlidge of the Sunday Times in London (paid sub required), which is cross posted at Time.com (free). In it Ive speaks openly about his philosophy about making things rather than designing them ("Everyone I work with shares the same love of and respect for making") and the resurgence of the idea of craft.

It's evident by the massively popular products that his team produces that Ive cares a lot about his creations and this is a central theme in the interview. Ive doesn't tolerate mediocrity and he sheds some light on what drives him to obsess about the details:

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. It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made. 

Ive is humble and unassuming, but he's also astutely aware of impact that his products make on society, telling Arlidge: "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."

What initially drew Ive to Apple was its simplicity, in the interview he reveals that after 'having such problems with computers” during his student years that he feared he was "technically inept."

Ive's design sensibility and unique desire to understand how things work (from the inside out) led him to helm the design team at a company worth almost $500 billion. Ive's small team consists of only about 15 people hailing from Britain, America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. "Most of us have worked together for 15 to 20 years. We can be bitterly critical of our work. The personal issues of ego have long since faded.”

On the intimacy of products

Ive notes that users have an extremely personal relationship with the mobile products that his team creates: "The product you have in your hand, or put into your ear, or have in your pocket, is more personal than the product you have on your desk. The struggle to make something as difficult and demanding as technology so intimately personal is what first attracted me to Apple. People have an incredibly personal relationship with what we make.”

On Steve Jobs

Ive shared a couple of colorful anecdotes about the late Steve Jobs, who died in 2010. He recalls traveling with Jobs: "We’d get to the hotel where we were going, we'd check in and I'd go up to my room. I'd leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t unpack. I'd go and sit on the bed and wait for the inevitable call from Steve: 'Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. let's go.'"

When asked if Jobs was tough as people say, Ive is quick to defend his former boss and close friend: "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!"

On IP and price

When asked about seeing his designs so widely copied, Ive exclaims "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."

You can tell that Ive is personally offended when his designs are blatantly copied and that he feel a tangible loss when it happens. It turns out that creating life-changing products and manufacturing them to Apple's exacting specifications is extremely expensive: "We don’t take so long and make the way we make for fiscal reasons. Quite the reverse," notes Ive.

The interview is an excellent read for anyone interested in the creative visionary behing Apple's most successful products. You can read it in full at Time.com.

If you're interested in learning more about Jony Ive, I also highly recommend Leander Kahney's excellent book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products (Amazon).

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPad

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

12 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Johnnie is a thief

    Johnnie should be sued for Nokia E52 design robbery, he copied Nokia E52 design, just removed keyboard, really great “designer” :)

    goo (dot) gl/PCi6FM


    “WE’RE SURROUNDED BY POORLY MADE OBJECTS.”, iObjects:

    "iPhone 5s Bending In People’s Pockets"
    "Quarter of iPhones have a broken screen, poll says."
    "Foxconn’s iPhone 5 devices fall below agreed standards."
    "Apple’s iPhones look great and iPads feel amazing, but are they really high-quality devices?"

    +
    antennagate

    every designer at Apple would be successful:

    "Study: iPhone owners have ‘blind loyalty’ and will buy anything Apple makes"
    Jiří Pavelec
    • Do you mean the Nokia E52...

      that was released two years after the iPhone?
      msalzberg
      • Facts

        SSSShhhh! Don't use facts on the trolls. It only angers and confuses them!
        THavoc
        • facts? he lied like you, iLimited ;)

          facts? he lied like you, iLimited ;)
          iPhone 4 design came after Nokia E52, do not lie here ;)
          Jiří Pavelec
      • iPhone 4 design came after Nokia E52, do not lie here ;)

        iPhone 4 design came after Nokia E52, do not lie here ;)
        Jiří Pavelec
        • Ultimately...

          shit doesn't sell.
          And Apple have sold billions.
          pjher
          • our bakery has sold zillions of rolls :)

            our bakery has sold zillions of rolls :)
            very poor logic from you :)

            "Study: iPhone owners have ‘blind loyalty’ and will buy anything Apple makes"

            your poor logic and iSt*pidity is a great business for Apple :)
            Jiří Pavelec
  • Terrific

    Excellent insightful interview from a man who is unmatched as a designer of technology products!
    Tiggster79
  • Like most geniuses, they are at their best

    when not allowed to run completely free. Jobs was a good check on Ive. Some of the design decisions in iOS 7 and 7.1 make me think Ive has a bit too much free run right now.
    baggins_z
    • Amen to that

      He's complaining about copycats while iOS7 is the lovechild of Android and Windows 8, robbed of much of the Apple DNA and "feel" ?? And this is coming from an Apple fan.

      To read various interviews where he says that extraneous unnecessary stuff was removed from ios6 for ios7, that order was added where there previously was disorder, and skeumorphism cues were removed since the world is smarter now truly is disappointing since it's so very out of touch. Ios7 has more disorder now since it's so unintuitive, it unnecessarily added completely stuff (parallax, flying icons, cheap sounding echo when the power off button is pressed, and overly-simplified icons and art that make the experience no longer feel apple-like), and - as far as no longer needing the skeumorphism cues - what does he think, that there's a finite number of ios users and no new users will ever appear who might benefit from and enjoy those cues like we did at first? That's not good design, that's just ego and selfishness.

      No doubt he's done a lot of good with machanical design/appearance of macs but his work on UI and software & ios7 is just not good design. Even with the iPhone itself - the fact that it's almost mandatory to buy a case immediately due to the fragile museum-quality glass design is just not good design. That's the result of too much free reign and too much time spent in the laboratory & studio, breathing too much of your own air.
      UsedToLikeMyIphoneWithIOS6
  • How Many Different Versions Of The Mona Lisa

    hang in the Louvre? Only one!

    This is not to say that that the iPhone in any way shape or form is on the same level as the Mona Lisa; rather, it is a hyperbole used to illustrate the principle of grand artistic achievement.

    Once a pinnacle has been reached there are only two choices: 1. accept that it is what it is and move on to something new or, 2. try to achieve a higher level by continuously copying and tweaking the original (definition of insanity)

    With choice #1 you get 'new and exciting' while with choice #2 an Edsel is the result - Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the iPhone 6!
    Mujibahr
  • Jobs

    I guess I'm the only person paying attention. Can someone tell OGrady that Steve Jobs died in 2011, not 2010. At least get your basic facts straight.
    Maha888