As the senior vice president of design at Apple, Jony Ive has a very big job. A job so big that Steve Jobs once said of Ive, “He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple, except me.”
Ive oversees all aspects of design for every Apple product. Every icon, every swipe, every rounded corner, every color. Ive has seen a lot in his many years at Apple and during that time, he worked side-by-side with Steve Jobs. Ive has come a long way from his meager upbringing in England…
Designing a Future
Growing up in a middle-class suburb of London, Ive started learning industrial design at Northumbria University in 1985. While at Northumbria, Ive won student design competitions two years in a row.
After graduating with the highest honors, he caught the attention of several people including Robert Brunner, who founded the San Francisco design agency, Lunar. Brunner was very impressed with Ive, who “had it all figured out.” Brunner would go on to work at Apple and he and Ive’s paths would cross again. One of Ive’s main influences was German designer Dieter Rams, who knows a thing or two about how to create good design.
Ive eventually found himself working at the London-based design agency, Tangerine, where Ive interned and eventually became a partner. One day when Tangerine visited Apple, Ive ran into Brunner (now head of design) again. Brunner was impressed by a concept Ive had for a handheld computer. Called the Machintosh Folio, the tablet-like device had a tilted screen and featured a stylus pen.
Ive was hired by Apple in 1992 and over time became extremely close to the late Steve Jobs. While they didn’t always see eye to eye, they did both agree on innovation and design usability.
Jonathan Ive has gone through a lot at Apple, including nearly resigning at one point. He and Jobs would debate design intensely, like whether products should have rounded corners. According to Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, the two would discuss the concept of corners “for hours and hours.”
Designing the Apple Watch, Airbug & Lightsabers
These days, Ive is riding high on the Apple Watch, a product he had to fight for at Apple because it was so radically different from anything Apple had done before. Ive and his design team built the first prototype in just six weeks. On the topic of why the Apple Watch isn’t round, Ive has said, “When a huge part of the function is lists, a circle doesn’t make sense.”
Ive, who is also a fan of high-end luxury products, pushed for the gold Apple Watch Edition as a fashion statement.
The “Airbug” is another top-secret project that Ive may (or may not) be working on.
A year ago at a New York dinner party, Ive started discussing lightsaber designs with J.J. Abrams. At the time, Abrams was about to begin directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ive told Abrams, “It would be interesting if it were less precise, and just a bit more spiffy. More analog, more primitive, and I think, in a way, somehow more ominous.” Abrams took the comment to heart, and the cross-guard lightsaber that is featured in the new trailer was designed in part by Jony Ive.
Ive’s Legacy at Apple
While Ive may have not been the lead on the earlier Apple products he worked on, it was his work that ultimately made them Apple products. The white-and-silver form of the iPod, the bulbous and candy-like design of the iMac…all Ive’s ideas.
“If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together. He understands the big picture, as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company.”
– Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs once said of Ive, “If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together. He understands the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company.”
Most recently, Ive has been sitting in on meetings with Apple’s Special Projects team: Apple is rumored to be making an electric car. Ive, a confessed gear-head, travels to the South of England each year for the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Interestingly, it’s not Apple’s executives who apply pressure to Ive’s group: Ive and his designers are pushed by their own innovations: “To say, ‘There you are, it’s done’ would really be selfish of me.”
The Apple Watch follows other Apple products with innovative design, such as the iPod and click wheel; the iPhone and multitouch. The Apple Watch’s digital crown will be used to scan lists, and zoom in and out.
Jony Ive not only has the best job at Apple, but is actually Apple’s greatest product.
Knighted in 2012, Ive was with Steve Jobs when he died. He spent countless hours with Jobs and still thinks of his friend almost every day. “How could I not?” Ive has said. “Given our relationship, and given that I’m still designing in the same place, at the same table, where I spent the last 15 years with him next to me?” Ive is probably the closet thing to Steve Jobs that Apple has left.