Britain’s Jony Ive’s designs have not only made Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world; they’ve overturned entire industries, from music and mobile phones to PCs and tablets. But for someone who has changed the world as much as he has, little is widely known about Apple’s senior vice president of industrial design.
Unlike his former boss and creative partner Steve Jobs, Ive shuns the spotlight. Naturally shy and soft-spoken, he lets his work speak for itself and concerns himself only with his craft. In the first book to focus on Ive, Leander Kahney offers a rigorous and systematic examination of a remarkably creative career and provides insight into the principles underlying Ive’s success. Having covered Apple as an editor since the 1990s and interviewed Ive on numerous occasions, Kahney offers a unique perspective on how this man designs killer products that attract fanatically loyal customers.
The book does a small amount of lid-lifting on the famously secretive product designer. Here are some highlights.
1 | Jony used to drive himself to school each day in a Fiat 500 he called Mabel. He’d keep the sunroof open, so his Robert Smith-inspired goth hairstyle could stick out of the top.
2 | At university one of Jony’s early designs was a white pen (the ‘Zebra TX2’) with rubbery side rivets. They performed no function except to provide a ‘fiddle factor’ – meaning the pen felt nice to hold, and to play with.
3 | While at British design group Tangerine, Jony was approached by Apple to work on some designs on spec. His came up with a transportable desktop called the Macintosh Workspace. The Workspace could be folded flat for transporting, but “spread its keyboard like a pair of chunky wings” when opened for use.
4 | Jony joined Apple as Senior Vice President of Industrial Design in 1997, after Steve Jobs’ return to Apple. At that point the ailing company had a confusing 40 products on the market, with baffling names like the Performa 5200CD, Performa 5210CD, Performa 521CD and the Performa 5220CD. “If I couldn’t figure this out,” tutted Jobs, “how could our customers?”
5 | References for 1998’s groundbreaking, translucent iMac included the taillight from a BMW and a transparent thermos flask.
6 | Even getting the right power cable for the iMac proved a design headache. Jony insisted it must also be transparent, “like the condensation that forms on glass when you take a shower”.
7 | Steve Jobs’ initial chosen name for the iMac was MacMan.
8 | For a joke, the design team made the iMac G4’s innards resemble a giant set of male genitals.
9 | Jony’s Apple office features plain white walls, with no family photos or awards. Just a lamp, desk and chair.
10 | However, that chair is a Supporto, designed in 1997 by UK furniture maker Hille. Jony has declared the leather and aluminium design “a masterpiece”.
11 | At Apple, all brainstorms begin with coffee. The designers take it in turn to play host using a high-end expresso maker.
12 | The iPod’s white colour was Jony’s idea. “It’s not just a colour,” he said. “It’s an unmistakable, shocking neutral.”
13 | The first song played on the first iPod at Apple was Spiller’s ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’, featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
14 | A lifelong petrolhead, in the early 2000s, Jony totalled his Aston Martin DB9 on a Californian Interstate. Apple were so shaken up by the idea they might lose him, they immediately instated a pay rise.
15 | The iPhone’s screen was inspired by an infinity pool, the high-end hotel swimming pools with the invisible edge.
16 | The screen size of the first iPad was based on a single piece of paper from a legal notepad.
17 | Concerned that the iPad would be too difficult to pick up, an early prototype featured a pair of large plastic handles, making it resemble “a particularly inelegant dinner tray”.
18 | Unsurprisingly, Jonny has been offered piles of money to be lured away from Apple and design everything from cars to shoes. “The thing is, you could transplant me and this design group to another place,” he says, ““and we wouldn’t work at all.”
Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products (Penguin, £14.99) is out now.