Celebrity profile: Hard core at Apple

Jonathan Ive may not be a household name but chances are you’ll know his work like the back of your hand. These are the must-have gadgets you can’t live without. Most likely your office, home, and your pocket, too, contains at least one of his creations.

You’ll spend eight hours a day working on one of the products he masterminded, and then, on your train journey home you’ll listen to some music or catch up with your friends using one of the other products he created. Such is the influence of Ive, aka creative guru at the core of Apple, a company that has become a byword for invention and beautifully designed, best-selling products.

Besides the late CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, the man with the vision, the credit for the company’s success lies with Ive, the man who ‘makes it so’. The boy who grew up in Chingford in Essex with a passion for taking gadgets apart, and who ended up Senior Vice-President of Industrial Design at Apple just six years after joining, has masterminded some of the company’s greatest hits.

Who can forget the arrival of the iMac, which injected some much-needed colour into computing after years of soulless beige; the iPod, which revolutionised the way we buy, store and listen to music; or the iPhone, which has an App for everything: from one that keeps track of your expenses to one that takes you on a tour of the solar system.

Then there’s the iPad which, since its release in 2010, has spawned a whole generation of copycat tablets and created a new niche in the technology market.

More than 300,000 iPads were bought before midnight on the first day of release and over 250,000 ebooks were downloaded from Apple’s iBookstore during the first day. When the new iPad2 was launched in November 2012, it sold an incredible three million in three days.

Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Although the iPhone 5, the thinnest, lightest and fastest iPhone ever, also sold well when it was released in September last year, there was one feature that didn’t go down so well with users. The new maps app was slated from the start for a catalogue of omissions and errors.

The debacle resulted in a restructuring of Apple’s design team, with the man responsible for the mapping software, Scott Forstall, asked to leave, and Ive allocated responsibility for software design as well as hardware.

So, who is the man whose design genius will shape the future of Apple?

Ive showed early promise, wowing companies with the appeal of his creations even as a lowly intern during his degree in Design and Art at Newcastle Polytechnic, and winning the Royal Society of Arts’ student award for design twice.

Clive Grinyer, later to become Ive’s business partner when he set up Tangerine design consultancy in 1989, has spoken of Ive’s “sheer focus to get it perfect”, recalling his student digs crammed full of foam models of his final project.

Working at Tangerine, Ive realised that the nuts and bolts of creating a great product was what got his juices flowing, not running a design business. So, in 1992, he moved to America to join Apple.

It was a move that seems meant to be. Although it’s hard to believe, Ive claims to have had “a real problem with computers” when trying to use them for his design course. Then he discovered the Mac and after years of battling with PCs, it was like a breath of fresh air. He describes it as, “the moment when I realised that technology could be accessible and intuitive”. It stoked an interest in the company behind it.

“The more I learnt about this cheeky almost rebellious company the more it appealed to me,” he said.

Perhaps it is this first-hand knowledge of unfriendly technology that helps Ive create the intuitive user experience Apple is renowned for; the iPad has been hailed by some as the computer for people who don’t like computers. 

One reason his name lacks the immediate recognition factor is down to his modesty. Interviews are rare and when Ive does speak, it’s without a shred of self-aggrandisement or promotion. He certainly isn’t interested in being recognised. He told The Telegraph last year that “people’s interest is in the product, not in its authorship,” adding that all he ever wanted to do was design and make.
“It’s what I love doing. It’s great if you can find what you love to do. Finding it is one thing but then to be able to practise that and be preoccupied with that is another.”

And Apple itself is not a company that goes to great lengths to promote itself, claiming it doesn’t need to as its products speak for themselves. Marrying form with function, appealing to the eye and simple to use, Apple’s designs strive to be iconic and many occupy exhibition space in the hallowed spaces of MOMA in New York and other world-class museums.

“We’re keenly aware that when we develop and make something and bring it to market that it really does speak to a set of values,” Ive explains. “What preoccupies us is that sense of care, and what our products will not speak to is a schedule, or trying to respond to some corporate or competitive agenda. We’re genuinely designing the best products that we can for people.”

While the products have rolled off the factory lines, the awards for Ive have rolled in. He won the Design Museum’s first Designer of the Year prize for the iMac and iPod in 2002, and again in 2003, and the title Royal Designer for Industry from The Royal Society of Arts in the same year.

He is also the only person to have been awarded six D&AD Black Pencils, the creative industry’s version of an Oscar.

In 2003 he was named Designer of the Year by the Design Museum, London.

He won awards for the PowerBook G4, MacBook, unibody MacBook Pro, the iPod and the iPhone, and in 2006 was given a CBE for services to the design industry.

Last May, Ive was awarded the ultimate accolade when he was knighted by Princess Anne at Buckingham Palace, an honour that he describes as “absolutely thrilling”.

There’s no doubting his credentials, but what’s his secret?

At Apple it’s a No to focus groups. “They just ensure that you don’t offend anyone, and produce bland, inoffensive products,” Ive has said. And they don’t waste too much time with drawings; Ive confesses he’s not handy with a pencil. Instead he and his team get straight to work on the real thing. “We go right from idea to prototypes. I just love making objects,” he says.

He leads a small team of truly passionate people.

“We think of design as not just the product’s appearance, it’s what the product is, how it works. The design and the product itself are inseparable,” Ive has said.

“We push each other, we’re very self-critical and we’ll take the time to get the product right.”
The thirst for invention goes right down to what the product is made of. The Apple team is a pioneer of new materials and manufacturing processes, not just products.

The latest embodiment of the iPad is made of recyclable aluminium and comes with energy-efficient LED-backlit displays that are free of mercury and made with arsenic-free glass.

“My goal is simply to try to make products that really are meaningful to people,” Ive has said.

With him at Apple’s design helm people are sure to go on enjoying meaningful pleasure from its products for many years to come. 

Ive innovations

1998 – iMac is available in several colourways; two million are sold in the first year
1999 – Apple iBook, the 22ins Cinema Display, the PowerMac G4 Tower and the iSub
2000 – Apple G4 Cube
2001 – Titanium PowerBook G4 and the iPod portable MP3 player – the iPod revolutionises the way we buy and listen to music forever
2002 – iMac with 15in and 17in floating screens; the eMac, developed specially for the education sector
2003 – The 12in PowerBook and the 17in PowerBook – at just an inch thick and 6.8 lbs, the 17in model is the world’s thinnest and lightest notebook
2004 – The multi-coloured iPod mini and iMac G5
2005 – Mac Mini 2007 iPhone, Apple’s first mobile phone, is launched. With touchscreen technology it is named Time magazine’s Invention of the Year
2010 – iPad is launched – Apple calls it a “magical and revolutionary product”
2012 – Launch of iPad Mini and the new iPhone 5

Published in the February edition of CN courtesy of Velocity magazine. Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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