Jony Ive: How an industrial designer became Apple’s greatest product

Sir Jonathan Ive “is now one of the two most powerful people in the world’s most valuable company,” Ian Parker writes for The New Yorker. “He sometimes listens to CNBC Radio on his hour-long commute from San Francisco to Apple’s offices, in Silicon Valley, but he’s uncomfortable knowing that a hundred thousand Apple employees rely on his decision-making—his taste—and that a sudden announcement of his retirement would ambush Apple shareholders.”

“According to Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’s widow, who is close to Ive and his family, ‘Jony’s an artist with an artist’s temperament, and he’d be the first to tell you artists aren’t supposed to be responsible for this kind of thing,'” Parker writes. “‘I’ve seen Jony deeply frustrated, but I’ve never seen him rant and rave,’ Laurene Powell Jobs said, and she added, laughing, that she would not have said the same of her husband. (And it’s hard to imagine Ive using a disabled-parking spot, as Jobs often did, long before he was unwell.) Ive likes to be liked; the story seemed to be a preëmptive defense of Jobs veiled as self-criticism. It was also an indirect response to Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of Jobs, which, though not hostile, included examples of unkindness. In a later conversation, Ive said that he’d read only parts of the book, but had seen enough to dislike it, for what he called inaccuracies. ‘My regard couldn’t be any lower,’ he said, with unusual heat.”

“One morning at Apple’s headquarters, a few weeks earlier, Ive recalled how, in 1997, the company seemed to be dying around him,” Parker writes. “‘Every story you’d read, every morning before coming to work, started with the phrase ‘The beleaguered computer maker, Apple,” he said. Ive was then thirty; after five years at the company, he had become its head of industrial design.”

“He and Newson are car guys, and they feel disappointed with most modern cars; each summer, they attend the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where vintage sports cars are exhibited and raced in the South of England,” Parker writes. “‘There are some shocking cars on the road,’ Ive said. ‘One person’s car is another person’s scenery.’ To his right was a silver sedan with a jutting lower lip. Ive said, quietly, ‘For example.”’ As the disgraced car fell behind, I asked Ive to critique its design: “’It is baffling, isn’t it? It’s just nothing, isn’t it? It’s just insipid.’ He declined to name the model, muttering, ]I don’t know, I don’t want to offend.’ (Toyota Echo.)”

Tons heaped upon tons more in the full article – highly recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Note: Today is Washington’s Birthday in the U.S.A., a federal holiday and, as such, the U.S. markets are closed for the day. We will resume our normal posting schedule tomorrow.

Washington’s Farewell Address, September 19, 1796


  1. Too bad!

    Ive is a brilliant hardware designer. However, he screwed up OS X beyond belief. Mavericks and Yosemite are abominations. Apple should’ve stuck with the Snow Leopard model and improved upon that. Too many changes after Snow Leopard are “change for change’s sake,” and make work much more difficult, with more steps necessary to accomplish previously simple tasks. Ive’s ideas are making Apple the new Microsoft (to hell with the user)!

    Ive should go back to designing hardware only, NOT software.

    1. I am not as concerned about the current state of iOS and OS X as the vocal detractors on this forum. If nothing else, Jony has certainly tapped in to the “love it or hate it” sentiment. That is reputedly a sign of great art, but OS X and iOS need to be more than art. They need to be intuitive and functional. That said, I get along fine with the current versions of iOS and OS X.

      It is worth noting that no one is great at everything. Perhaps Apple needs to pair Jony up with a software genius for collaboration?

        1. No doubt there are many fine software engineers at Apple, MikeK. But I was referring to a special, visionary, software guru and leader. Someone who is to software design as Jony is to hardware design.

    2. I loved Snow Leopard but I’ve had to go to Mounting Lion. It’s sort of ok and I will stay with it as long as possible. Hopefully I’ll never have to downgrade to the fugly Yosemite. Yosemite CA is beautiful. Yosemite Apple is not. Yosemite is Apples vista. Fire Ivy’s ass.

  2. This is yet another test for Apple management – keep Jony engaged and passionate about his work, but shield him as much as possible from the day-to-day frustrations and time-sucking meetings and other detritus of the corporate bureaucracy. In other words, keep Jony free to be Jony and do not limit or sap his artistic and creative genius with crap that other people can do.

    1. Totally agree. I worried when Tim Cook gifted Jony Ive with broad authority over Design, subordinating the iOS roadmap to a hardware development schedule that optimises the efficiency of the supply chain. Outcry over iOS 7, and other stumbles, seemed to justify the worry.

      Now I believe that Cook’s move was like a grandmaster’s sacrifice move in chess, whereby assets like customer sat are temporarily given up for long-term strategic gains, like the ability to manufacture 74.5 million smartphones, stun Wall Street, invade China, and eviscerate its nearest rival, Samsung.

  3. ‘Take Jony Ive, If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony. The difference that Jony has made, not only at Apple but in the world, is huge. He is a wickedly intelligent person in all ways. He understands business concepts, marketing concepts. He picks up just like that, click. He understands what we do at our core better than anyone. He gets the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company. He’s not just a designer. That’s why he works directly for me. There’s no one who can tell him what to do, or to butt out. That’s the way I set it up.’

    ‘Steve Jobs Bio: The Unauthorized Autobiography.’

  4. Jony was turning out beige boxes prior to the return of His Steveness and I am no fan of the visual detritus and Interface train wreck that iOS 7 newer OSes. Not really happy about replacing the Mac Pro tower with the black trash can, either.

    Jony should go design clothes or something.

    1. You don’t know what you are talking about.

      Ive was not in charge pre-Steve. He was unhappy with Apple’s direction and was going to resign but Jon Rubinstein convinced him to stay through Steve’s return saying the following revival was “going to make history”.

      And then Steve made Ive Senior Vice President of Industrial Design and history WAS made.

      1. I do agree with some here that Ive doesn’t seem to get software user interface design as he does hardware.

        The point of hardware is to get out of the way. But the point of software is make things appear simple and fun, which is not the same thing.

        Sometimes shading, textures, non-square or circle shapes, icons with non-functional cultural references, etc., help users see visually what things mean and make things fun. Not all decoration is just decoration. Our visual system was designed for a 3D environment, too much flat design sucks. (In my opinion.)

  5. Jony was turning out beige boxes prior to the return of His Steveness and I am no fan of the visual detritus and Interface train wreck that iOS 7 & newer OSes have. Not really happy about replacing the Mac Pro tower with the black trash can, either.

    Jony should go design clothes or something.

  6. Ive’s responsibility is the estetics of the UI.. Not function .
    And in that i dont think he has done a great job….
    Some of the choices he has implemented are pure stupid !
    Ex.. White background for photo app?
    Low contrast Color schema and ui objects … miniturazing small UI objects to even smaller size ….
    Not good choice of Fonts …
    Flat taken too far!..

  7. A related article from The Guardian via The New Yorker:

    Apple’s Jony Ive digested: 23 things we’ve learned

    1. Ive has a lot of famous friends
    2. He’s had a hand in the design of the new Star Wars lightsabers thanks to a boozy dinner with JJ Abrams
    3. Ive’s not unfamiliar with getting involved in making films
    4. Earlier in his career, things were less glamorous: Ive designed a bath, a sink and a toilet
    5. Now Ive has a 12-foot square glass-walled office
    6. Jobs’s office and Ive’s lab were linked by a special corridor (and Ive didn’t realise this was unusual)
    7. Apple has three specialist recruiters who hire designers, and they only hire one a year
    8. When Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, Ive had his resignation letter in his pocket
    9. It was Jobs that brought in Apple’s skeuomorphism, and Ive never liked it
    . . .

    Oh dear. Skeuomorphism a Jobsian initiative?!

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