Apple’s design chief helped transform computing, phones and music. The company’s secrecy and Ive’s modesty mean he has never given an in-depth interview—until now.
A colleague pointed this interview out to me and I have to admit it is a great read. The debate about Apple’s viability and future is one most designers have joined at some point in the last 10 years… which ever side of the fence you find yourself on, this interview with Jonathan Ive is an intoxicating glimpse into the world that is Apple.
Jonathan Ive – Designs Tomorrow: and interview with John Arlidge for Time
‘Hello. Thanks for Coming’
We use Jonathan Ive’s products to help us to eat, drink and sleep, to work, travel, relax, read, listen and watch, to shop, chat, date and have sex. Many of us spend more time with his screens than with our families. Some of us like his screens more than our families. For years, Ive’s natural shyness, coupled with the secrecy bordering on paranoia of his employer, Apple, has meant we have known little about the man who shapes the future, with such innovations as the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. But last month, he invited me to Cupertino in Silicon Valley where Apple is based, for his first in-depth interview since he became head of design almost 20 years ago.
The gods — or was it the ghost of Steve Jobs? — seemed against it. Jobs didn’t like Apple execs doing interviews. It had not rained properly in California for months but that morning the clouds rolled off the Pacific, turning the Golden Gate Bridge black. Interstate 280 South to Silicon Valley was a river of water, instead of the usual lava streaks of stop-start SUVs. But just after 10AM, an Apple tech-head appeared in an all-white meeting room on the first floor of building 4 of the firm’s antiseptic headquarters with strict instructions to find an Earl Grey tea bag.
“Hello. Thanks for coming,” grins Ive, as he rolls in, picking up his brew. Ive is the most unremarkable remarkable person you could meet. You might think you’d recognize him if you passed him on the street, but you wouldn’t. He’s not particularly tall, is well built and bald(ish), has two-day-old stubble and dresses like dads do on weekends — navy polo shirt, canvas trousers, desert boots. He speaks slowly and softly in an Essex accent totally unaffected by living in America for more than two decades. “I can’t even bring myself to say math, instead of maths, so I say mathematics. I sound ridiculous,” he laughs.
Ive is in a good mood today — and not just because he’s celebrating his 47th birthday. He likes the idea of this interview series because he sees himself as more of a maker than a designer. “Objects and their manufacture are inseparable. You understand a product if you understand how it’s made,” he says. “I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even begin to think what they should look like. More and more people do. There is a resurgence of the idea of craft.”
Ive has been a maker ever since he could wield a screwdriver. He inherited his craftsman’s skills from his father, Michael. He was a silversmith who later became a lecturer in craft, design and technology at Middlesex Polytechnic. Ive spent his childhood taking apart the family’s worldly goods and trying to put them back together again. “Complete intrigue with the physical world starts by destroying it,” he says. Radios were easy, but “I remember taking an alarm clock to pieces and it was very difficult to reassemble it. I couldn’t get the mainspring rewound.” Thirty years later, he did the same to his iPhone one day. Just to prove he still could.
A love of making is something he shared with Jobs,Apple’s former chief executive who died three years ago. It helped the two men forge the most creative partnership modern capitalism has seen. In less than two decades, they transformed Apple from a near-bankrupt also-ran into the most valuable corporation on the planet, worth more than $665 billion.
“Steve and I spent months and months working on a part of a product that, often, nobody would ever see, nor realize was there,” Ive grins. Apple is notorious for making the insides of its machines look as good as the outside. “It didn’t make any difference functionally. We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”
For a man whose products are all called iSomething, it’s surprising that “i” is one word Ive scarcely uses. He talks constantly about his team or Jobs, using “we.” This is not “aw-shucks” false modesty or corporate-speak. “I don’t like being singled out for attention. Designing, engineering and making these products requires large teams,” he says.
Ive really does keep a low profile — or at least as low a profile as you’d expect one of the world’s most highly paid designers to keep. He has only one house — in the swanky Pacific Heights district of San Francisco, where his neighbors include Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel and actor Nicolas Cage. He lives there with his British wife, Heather Pegg, a writer and historian, and their twin sons. He avoids publicity. He and his design team have only been seen in public once: in London two years ago when they all turned up to accept a prestigious D&AD design award.
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