Last year Ive was given responsibility for software design on top of his role as chief of hardware design. I think that Ive is so central to what Apple does that it would be in trouble if he left. His latest book tells the story of how Jonathan "Jony" Ive went from being "a scruffy British teenager" to the most famous and successful designer in the world. The key episode in the Ive story is the way he helped returning Apple CEO Steve Jobs save the company with a string of revolutionary products starting with the iMac in It was a big success and made Ive a famous designer.
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Last year Ive was given responsibility for software design on top of his role as chief of hardware design. I think that Ive is so central to what Apple does that it would be in trouble if he left. His latest book tells the story of how Jonathan "Jony" Ive went from being "a scruffy British teenager" to the most famous and successful designer in the world.
The key episode in the Ive story is the way he helped returning Apple CEO Steve Jobs save the company with a string of revolutionary products starting with the iMac in It was a big success and made Ive a famous designer. That could be a huge deal. Thats where most people listen to music. And then at Apple, about all the major products that he worked on.
It changed Apple. That forged the relationship between Jobs and Ive, which led to the other successful products.
The iMac was the product that saved Apple. The company was going to go out of business. If it had failed they would have definitely gone out of business. It turned Apple from a niche computer maker into a much broader consumer electronics company. Of course the iPhone and the iPad are probably the most important products because they are changing the entire status of computing.
Rose Etherington: What enabled Ive to make such a big impact as a designer? Leander Kahney: Probably Steve Jobs. Ive was at Apple for five years before Jobs returned but he struggled to get his designs made by the company. But then when Steve Jobs came back, [Ive] was one of the most important voices at the table. He empowered him. Over the next ten years, Ive became more and more important and more central to what Apple does. Rose Etherington: Would Ive have had the same success at a different company?
Leander Kahney: He would have absolutely failed at another company. Jobs got all the credit for the products, but Ive is a singular designer, an extremely talented designer and design leader. A team of ten people would have been there before Jobs came back and are still there now. Apple became a unique design-centric corporate culture. Is Ive really a genius?
He showed exceptional skill and intelligence as a teenager. And of course his relationship with his dad is, I guess, quite similar to his relationship with Steve Jobs in that his dad nurtured his talent and set him down a path. He received a great education at Newcastle Polytechnic. The genius I think of both Jobs and Ive was a very humanistic approach to products.
They were focused very much on solving real world problems. They always wanted to do something that was a little bit hard to define. When they were doing the iPhone, the brief for the product was to make a phone that people can love. People were like how does that translate into anything? But they did the same thing to the iPod, make a music player that people could love. I think that setting goals like this immediately sets you apart from other designers.
They were setting goalposts in a completely different part of the playing field. That contributed but he made his own luck. I think the key was really Steve Jobs. Ive said himself, if he took this to another company, he would not be as successful. Polite, conscientious, hardworking. The point for me is how central was Jony Ive to the product creation process, the creativity of the companies.
Jobs enabled the culture, but Ive and his design team came up with the products. I think there was some jealousy there because Jobs was so secretive. He kept such a tight grip on what information came out of the company, that he was given credit for everything.
Rose Etherington: Why has the design-led culture been so successful for Apple? Often they find that they go down a path and they find that the path leads to a dead end. They restart the product again in a different direction.
The iPhone is a good example: it took two and a half years of huge investment in time and resources to develop that thing behind the scenes. Other companies have much more pressure about markets and timetables, and all these external factors that get them to rush products to the market. Samsung is sort of the opposite of Apple.
First of all it copied what Apple has done. Also, they tend to do a range of products. Leander Kahney: Exactly. This is what leads to major breakthroughs. When the iPod was successful, they were looking for some way to meld the iPod and a phone. So they tried something else. They ended up making about six different prototypes before they found one that they were happy enough with. And then when [the iPhone] came out, it was fundamentally different from everything that has come before.
Jobs did this his whole career, starting with the Apple 2 and the Mackintosh. Then with Pixar, where they completely reinvented computer animation. Then back at Apple with the iMac, the iPhone, the iPad. People think that Jobs was the genius that dreamt up these products but what he really did was create companies that had this process, that invested in this process, that leads to breakthroughs.
The investment in the design leads to breakthroughs. If we go back to the original Mackintosh in , it was very similar. He had a very small group of engineers and programmers who worked for three years to invent this radically different machine. Those days, products were made in 18 months; this was twice as long. They had hundreds and thousands of problems. They other thing about the designers is that a lot of people think designers are the people who make the outsides of things look good, but what these guys are the sort of primary inventors.
They take care of a product from its conception all the way through to its manufacture, working out how these things can be made. These guys are in charge of the product from dawn to dusk. Rose Etherington: And there are no other companies that are doing this at the moment?
No one has the size and influence of Apple. A lot of companies outsource their design but there are quite a few design-driven companies like, I would say, Tesla the car company and Sonos, which makes music components.
Rose Etherington: Is there anyone else working in the way that Ive does at Apple? It took Steve Jobs 12 years to create this culture with Apple. Rose Etherington: It was more of a struggle than a single turning point? Leander Kahney: Exactly, it was more of a struggle. And it took years of pushing back against that to come up with a much more design-centric way of making products.
These same compromises still exist. But Apple now has amazing resources. One of the biggest breakthroughs in design in the last few years is what they call the unibody process which is where they take a big hunk of metal and they remove material to make a structure and a case for a computer for an iPhone or an iPad.
Before what they used to do is take lots of components and screws and glue them together. That was an additive process. By changing it to a subtractive process where they take material away, they are able to make really really thin and light cases. By comparison, when a company like Intel makes a new factory to make chips, they spend about 3 billion dollars.
They do that once every five or ten years. Rose Etherington: So resources come into it a lot then? Rose Etherington: What is it like to work in the design department at Apple? Everything they do is as a group. They have two or three brainstorming sessions a week, 3 hour meetings, Tuesdays and Thursdays. All the other designers work in a big open-plan space. They are very well compensated, they all have lots of shares in Apple. They tend to work sane hours. The engineers they work with work insane hours - nearly hour weeks - and spend months on end in distant factories in China.
Rose Etherington: What sets it apart from other design departments in other companies? Leander Kahney: Well, the power they have. Other companies get pushed back by the executives or the factory.
But given Mr. In an interview, Mr. Kahney talked about some of the highlights of his book. An edited transcript of the interview follows. Who exactly is Jony Ive?
Jony Ive : The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products
Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products