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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This article was penned for oDesign. The original article can be found here.
MICROSOFT LED THE TECH INDUSTRY PAST ITS CRUTCH OF CHEESY SKEUOMORPHISM. SO WHERE IS EVERYONE GOING NEXT? A NEW ERA OF INTERACTION DESIGN.
With so much attention paid to Apple’s new mobile software, iOS 7, it’sworth noting the extent to which Microsoft spearheaded flat design. The refreshing UI of Windows 8 and Windows Phone sparked a debate around the pros and cons of skeuomorphism, helping to usher in an era where gaudy textures, visual metaphors, and decorative, oft 3-D elements became frowned upon in the digital world. Apple has removed most of these design flourishes in the software running its new iPhone 5s and 5c; even Googlehas trended toward flatter aesthetics.
Thanks largely to the kamikaze design efforts of Microsoft, we now live in the post-skeuomorphic world. So what does that design have to offer beyond software that’s flat? Everyone seems to agree, the new trend will be software that’s more physically integrated with hardware.
This week, as Microsoft prepared to launch its Surface 2 tablet, I took the opportunity to find out how the company’s designers felt about leading this industry-wide design transformation. Apple’s new OS, for example, leans strongly toward being what Microsoft calls “authentically digital,” eschewing its legacy of skeuomorphic interface design shrouded in real-life visual metaphors. Yet, when I ask Microsoft Creative Director Ralf Groene whether it’s validating that so many companies are now taking cues from Microsoft, he takes a long pause and is careful not to boast. “Um … no,” he says. “I mean, it’s flattering when someone takes your idea. But what’s more interesting to me is that [we have moved beyond] getting people used to PCs by using a desktop metaphor from the physical world.”
“We don’t need all these frames and … I almost said wood veneers, but that wouldn’t be fair,” he continues, apparently holding back a subtle jab at Apple’s iBooks app. “We don’t need all these references to the old world. People have grown up with this technology–we can now move into next level.”
What exactly that “next level” is beyond flat and veneer-less remains uncertain. Groene spends time talking up the importance of creating intuitive metaphors for wonky concepts like the cloud; he also stresses the importance of developing services that can seamlessly transition from consumption to productivity environments. But when asked what the next step after visual skeuomorphism is, Groene does indicate that it could “go more into interaction design.”
It’s a sentiment we’ve started to hear from other designers. Apple’s real-world visual metaphors, for one, have arguably been replaced by interaction metaphors, which work to sync the digital and physical worlds (or industrial design with interface design). With iOS 7’s Parallax feature, which imbues the system with life-like motion effects, users can physically manipulate the phone to alter its digital appearance. On the home screen, for example, as you tilt the phone back and forth, the background wallpaper will look as if it’s shifting accordingly, with its icons floating on top as if on a different plane. “The way they’re reimplementing the UI framework with physics–it just feels natural,” former Apple designer Loren Brichter recently told Fast Company. “They’re mimicking the real world. So in a way, the skeuomorphism, which was previously going into visual design, is now going into interaction design.”
For Microsoft, we can see early hints of this transition in its Touch Cover, thepressure-sensitive keyboard attachment for its Surface tablet that measures not only what you press, but how hard you press it. As the company showed off this week, the Touch Cover is creating new opportunities for interactions between the physical and digital world–one designer yesterday referred to programs built on top of this platform as “app[s] that I can [physically] touch.”
Drew Condon, an interaction designer at fitness startup RunKeeper, is optimistic about this trend, especially considering that Apple’s new iPhone comes equipped with an M7 motion coprocessor, which continuously tracks motion data via the device’s accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass, without comprising battery life. Condon argues that the “motion effects, dynamics, and core physics engine” of Apple’s new iPhone “should make it much easier for applications to define innovative new interaction models.” He smartly summarizes the pros and cons of this design direction, wondering whether mimicking real-life gravity in the digital world is another form of skeuomorphism:
There’s chatter that the layering and depth in iOS 7 is actually more skeuomorphic than before. All the screens-on-screens and glass and physics make the design more–not less–dependent on literal metaphors from the real world. It’s true; software allows us to create things independent of constraints of physical reality (there is no gravity in the matrix), but that doesn’t mean we need to reject the fact that the operators happen to live in a familiar, learned, unavoidable physical reality. There is an actual difference between ornamenting a design with stitched leather and simply admitting that light, inertia, and matter exist as fundamental forces of physics in the universe we live in. Using transparency, blurring, laying, motion, or making objects bounce off one another is not artificial, it’s natural. There is a fine line between natural and ornamentation, and that line is usually made of stitched yarn.
In other words, traditional visual metaphors, such as Apple’s stitched leather and fake wood veneers, are not only unnatural, but they also impede the experience. Inversely, the experience feels both more intuitive and more natural when it includes physical interaction metaphors. It helps to bridge the gap between industrial design and software beyond simple color cues we see tying together iOS 7 and the iPhone 5c, and Windows Phone and devices like the Nokia Lumia. As Jony Ive recently explained of Apple’s new iPhone, “[The] experience is defined by hardware and software working harmoniously together … We continue to refine that experience by blurring the boundaries between the two.”
An amazing video by CLICKNL that looks at Industrial Design today. Under ten minutes, this video captures the essence of product design (and design at large) as we experience it. It also looks at the idea of “user experience” and the ideas behind good design. Well worth a watch.
The movie ‘Creating Relevance by Design’ illustrates the changing rol of design agencies from designers of ‘good products’ towards ‘creating value for their clients’. It shows the way how industrial design agencies manage to keep relevant for their clients.
Van Berlo, NPK, Fabrique, Van der Veer Designers, Spark, Philips Design, Indes and Flex have contributed to this film in co-creation sessions. 39 Dutch Design Agencies support the story of the film.