Apple story of the day: Arise, Sir Jony Ive

By Jonny Evans

Apple [AAPL] lead designer, Jony Ive, received his Knighthood in London today, becoming a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) for his achievements in design and innovation, not bad at all for a Chingford boy.

[ABOVE: c/o The BBC, Ive picks up his Knighthood this morning. Nice suit.]

A simplicity story

In an interview published today (here and here) by The Telegraph, Ive repeats his advice to Apple's competitors, stressing qualities that count, things like focus, commitment, simplicity, bravery and philosophical integrity. He repeated a similar set of messages earlier this year, when he slammed competitors for their failure to meet his high standards. Which is probably why he gets design achievement awards, and they don't.

"We're keenly aware that when we develop and make something and bring it to market that it really does speak to a set of values," he tells The Telegraph today. "And what preoccupies us is that sense of care, and what our products will not speak to is a schedule, what our products will not speak to is trying to respond to some corporate or competitive agenda...We're very genuinely designing the best products that we can for people."

London boys

Born 1967 in Chingford, North East London and raised outside the capital. Ive's father was a silversmith. He studied design at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University). After graduation he co-founded London-based design company, Tangerine, where he designed numerous products: washbasins, televisions, combs and more.

Ive joined Apple in 1992, becoming Senior Vice President of Industrial Design when Steve Jobs returned in 1997.

Jobs and Ive helped transform Apple from a company on life support to the consumer electronics giant it is today, beginning with the introduction of the iMac and the later launches of the iBook, MacBook iPod, iPhone, iPad and more. Jobs described Ive as his "spiritual partner" and Ive answered to no one other than him, putting his design principles firmly at the center of the world's biggest company.

If you don't stand for something...

In an earlier interview, Ive admitted he didn't really get along with computers until he came across the Mac. "I remember being astounded at just how much better it was than anything else I had tried to use," he said. "The more I learnt about this cheeky almost rebellious company the more it appealed to me, as it unapologetically pointed to an alternative in a complacent and creatively bankrupt industry. Apple stood for something and had a reason for being that wasn't just about making money."

Ive's influences include designer Dieter Rams' iconic Braun designs. Ive loves the simple yet philosophically congruent nature of Braun designs. Speaking at the Design Museum in 2004, Ive said: "Simplicity speaks of the care of how our products are developed. It's not obvious how hard it was".

That's a design message Ive continues to drive home, telling the Telegraph today.

"We try to develop products that seem somehow inevitable. That leave you with the sense that that's the only possible solution that makes sense," he explains. "Our products are tools and we don't want design to get in the way. We're trying to bring simplicity and clarity, we're trying to order the products."

It isn't just a design principle for the product itself, but a principle that should infest every element of the company's self-expression, Ive seems to suggest: "The quest for simplicity has to pervade every part of the process. It really is fundamental."

And the things we didn't do

In 2004 Ive talked about the stress and strain of working at this kind of level. "Sometimes in the middle of (working on things) you get this nagging doubt and just think 'does anyone else really care?'", Ive said. "We all work really, really hard and pursue solutions that are really difficult, so we can make good products."

Ive also speaks a little about Apple's failures: "There have been times when we've been working on a program and when we are at a very mature stage and we do have solutions and you have that sinking feeling because you're trying to articulate the values to yourself and to others just a little bit too loudly.

"On a number of occasions we've actually all been honest with ourselves and said 'you know, this isn't good enough, we need to stop'. And that's very difficult."

Six Ive products, including the original iPod, are included within the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"Ive is the most gifted and successful designer of his generation, a man who has done as much as anybody to demonstrate that design matters," said Design Museum director, Deyan Sudjic.

Married with two children, Bentley-driving Ive holds near 600design and utility patents and honorary doctorates from The Royal College of Art, The University of Arts London, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Northumbria University.

Integrity matters

Why have Ive's products been so very successful? Ive puts it this way: "We try to develop products that seem somehow inevitable. That leave you with the sense that that's the only possible solution that makes sense," he explains.

In a sense, there's little that's new in today's pair of Telegraph interviews with the iconic 21st Century designer, but one element still stands out: the lack of a credible design competitor.

I think the reason behind this isn't simply that no one else is able to match Ive's in his expression -- I'm certain there's other talents out there; instead I think the reason is built deep inside the DNA of modern corporate-think. We stand at a time in which big business and political leaders seem to have lost their way, to have forgotten how to think.

That's the logic which pervades the political dialog of today -- facing a global recession that makes the 1930's look pleasant, governments worldwide are cutting those things which matter most if we want to work toward a better future tomorrow: education, adult education, lifelong learning and arts funding are all being withdrawn as if these things were luxury items, rather than the social and intellectual drivers for economic regeneration that they actually are.

A planet made by better designers

This is the logic of accountants suddenly put in charge of the future of the human race. And this isn't the logic Apple has ever applied when it finds itself facing destruction, at least, not since Steve Jobs.

Certainly, Jobs simplified Apple's product offering and took a risk on one future-focused device (the iMac). That risk paid off and Apple's now the biggest firm in the world.

Facing the dotcom recession of the early part of this Century, while many competitors cut their research and development spend, Apple raised its own. Why? Because, as Jobs said at that time, his company was determined to "innovate its way out of recession".

That's the key constituent to Apple's thinking. With Ive as its design guru, Apple invests in its intellectual assets in order to ensure its product designs are beautiful, functional, simple and world class. You even find a sense of this paradigm inside an Apple retail store.

Simplicity at the level of an Ive product design speaks volumes in terms of complexity.

The success of these products mirrors that the devices themselves reflect the zeitgeist of the time. It's arguable that today's zeitgeist demands a planet made by better designers than those leading the 'slash-and-burn' imperatives that mark our times.

Arise, Sir Jony Ive.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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