The New Yorker’s Ian Parker spent time with Apple’s senior vice-president of design, Jony Ive, and has written a profile that is arguably the most detailed and interesting look yet at a man who joined Apple in the 90’s before Steve Jobs’ triumphant return, and who went on to become the king of industrial design.
“I’m shy,” Ive said. His London accent is intact after more than twenty years away. “I’m always focussed on the actual work, and I think that’s a much more succinct way to describe what you care about than any speech I could ever make.” He sounded calm, but he was fidgeting with his hands, as if trying to flick gum from his fingertips.”
Ive discussed his first meeting with Jobs upon the co-founders return to Apple.
Jobs and Ive had an intense first meeting. Ive said, “I can’t really remember that happening really ever before, meeting somebody when it’s just like that”—he snapped his fingers. “It was the most bizarre thing, where we were both perhaps a little—a little bit odd. We weren’t used to clicking.”
Assuming the worst, Ive had a resignation letter in his pocket. Indeed, Jobs’s initial instinct had been to hire a new designer. […] Jobs visited the design studio and, as Ive recalled it, said, “Fuck, you’ve not been very effective, have you?” This was a partial compliment. Jobs could see that the studio’s work had value, even if Ive could be faulted for not communicating its worth to the company. During the visit, Ive said, Jobs “became more and more confident, and got really excited about our ability to work together.” That day, according to Ive, they started collaborating on what became the iMac. […] “My intuition’s good, but my ability to articulate what I feel was not very good—and remains not very good, frustratingly. And that’s what’s hard, with Steve not being here now.” (At Jobs’s memorial, Ive called him “my closest and my most loyal friend.”)
Ive also discusses his transition from a hardware-only guru to leading human interface design as well:
When Ive took control of Human Interface, in 2012, his immediate task was reforming the iOS. Jobs had liked digital facsimiles of analog designs; reportedly, the stitched leather in Apple’s desktop calendar quoted the interior of his Gulfstream. Ive’s view was that such effects were appropriate for the iPhone’s launch, when “we were very nervous—we were concerned how people would make a transition from touching physical buttons that moved, that made a noise . . . to glass that didn’t move.” But, he went on, “It’s terribly important that you constantly question the assumptions you’ve made.” (The bulbous iMac, a design with a similar desire to put people at ease, was replaced after three and a half years, and looked dated before then.) Ive was also itching to smooth the corners of iPhone app icons. “They drove me crazy,” he said. “All I could see were these unresolved tangency breaks.”
The article also covers Ive’s 16-member design team, something the public rarely hears about:
Team meetings are held in the kitchen two or three times a week, and Ive encourages candor. “We put the product ahead of anything else,” he said. “Let’s say we’re talking about something that I’ve done that’s ugly and ill-proportioned—because, believe you me, I can pull some beauties out of the old hat. . . . It’s fine, and we all do, and sometimes we do it repeatedly, and we have these seasons of doing it—”
“I had one last week,” Akana said.
“Which one?” he asked.
“The packaging thing,” she said.
“That’s true,” Ive said, laughing. “It was so bad.”
Akana had proposed that an Ultrasuede cloth inside the box for a gold version of the Apple Watch should be an orangey-brown. Ive had objected with comic hyperbole, comparing it to the carpeting in a dismal student apartment. In the same amused spirit, Akana had then asked, “So you don’t like it?”
The complete Jony Ive profile, while a long read, is definitely a recommended one for anyone curious about the man behind Apple’s iconic products and software design. Read the entire profile here.