Jonathan Ive. A game changer May 7, 2012Posted by Marwan Rammah in Side Interests.
Jonathan Ive is an innovator, an artist, a craftsman, an engineer, a Gestalt-Ingenieur. He is a designer, a man who has the ability to shape people’s lives. Throw in a few other titles such as the Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and numerous other design awards, and it becomes apparent that Sir Jony Ive has got the full package as a designer. Perhaps, the most worthy recognition is that aside from Steve Jobs, I believe that Ive is single-handedly responsible for getting arguably the most successful company in the world to where it is now. He achieved this through his ability to influence, transform and lead at one of the most successful design houses in the world. Jony is Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Inc.
Ive was born in London in 1967 where at a very young age his interest in art and design quickly developed as he was consumed by how things were made and how they worked, their form and material. He pursued formal design education at Newcastle Polytechnic where he states to have “figured out some basic stuff– that form and color defines your perception of the nature of an object, whether or not it is intended to.” Ive was exposed to an Apple product for the firs time towards the end of his college days. He describes his experience as being “struck by the care taken with the whole user experience. I had a sense of connection via the object with the designers.” By the time he graduated Ive had won numerous student design competitions and shortly after joined a design consultancy startup, Tangerine Design.
At Tangerine, Ive learnt much about himself and design. He developed everything from power tools to televisions and bathroom sinks. There, he also learnt that he wasn’t quite the business man “I was terrible at running a design business, and I really wanted to just focus on the craft of design;” though I would argue that his design ability is his biggest business skill. His competitive advantage in the market you might say.
In 1992, Ive joined Apple where he blossomed into the design genius he is today. He learnt the importance of team effort after having worked independently as a consultant, and became aware that design is “massively reliant on the commitment of lots of different teams to solve the same problems.” That is key to Apple’s success; however, not as key as his small “heavenly” team of elite designers who are given credit for most of Apple’s products. The small team’s almost religious methodology and mindset is fundamental to their success. Ive speaks passionately about his team and has said that many Apple products were dreamed up while eating pizza in the small kitchen at the team’s design studio.
“We have assembled a heavenly design team. By keeping the core team small and investing significantly in tools and process we can work with a level of collaboration that seems particularly rare. Our physical environment reflects and enables that collaborative approach. The large open studio and massive sound system support a number of communal design areas. We have little exclusively personal space. In fact, the memory of how we work will endure beyond the products of our work.”
Ive’s first biggest achievement was the candy-colored iMac that transformed the PC world from a grey and dull one to one that speaks across generations. I use the words “candy-colored” because Ive actually visited a jelly bean factory at the time the design was being conceived to study in more detail the processes that blend form and color. Ive’s brain-child, the iMac saw tremendous success and arguably saved Apple from the brink of bankruptcy.
Though Ive’s physical designs are limited to consumer electronics, his design philosophy transcends media and disciplines. Two words might best describe Ive’s design philosophy: pure and inevitable. Designers don’t work in a vacuum; and Ive most definitely didn’t. His biggest influence was Dieter Rams, chief designer at Braun. So prominent in fact that you’ll see many of Ive’s products are almost verbatim to those of Ram’s while at Braun.
Ive’s design philosophy is one that speaks of the purpose of his work to “getting design out of the way”and hence makes forms feel undesigned, inevitable. Here his ideology is often confused with a minimalist one. Though his approach might be driven by simplicity, the products aren’t as much minimal as they are pure. It is in fact very complex to make something look minimal, effortless, perfectly proportioned or pure. As did the late Steve Jobs, Ive strives for purity. Both icons believe that products need to be “pure and seamless.” By purity, Ive is implies that there needs to be perfect harmony between a product’s form and essence.
Fundamentally, Ive sees a product testifying to the people who conceived it, manufactured it and developed it. He looks into how it connects to users and users to it. How they hold it and touch it, it’s form, material and architecture.
“…every object intentional or not, speaks to who put it there.”
Aside from an underlying philosophy that governs Ive’s approach to product design, certain fundamentals to his approach make his designs seem flawless, natural and ultimately inevitable. Be it relentless experiments into new tools, materials and production processes, or countless physical prototypes of the products and tedious effort in making one part do the job of six others, such basics to his approach seem to be essential to coming up with a beautiful end product.
Ultimately, as head of industrial design, Ive is also responsible for making the products at a large scale while maintaining their “purity” and not robbing them of their “essence.” Hence, his achievements in that front, a more technical and scientific approach to design, are what allowed Apple to transform consumer electronics into mass produced sculptures that people are so eager to acquire even when they do not have need for them. These processes enable Ive’s designs to scale from a hand-crafted gem that took months to develop to mass produced art-work that combines form, function, material, and architecture brought together through manufacturing and tooling innovations. This reminds us of Braun’s ability to flood the market with art sculptures of the 1950s and 1960s under Dieter Rams’ lead on the design front. Rams and his team who were able to “produce hundreds of wonderfully conceived and designed objects: products that were beautifully made in high volumes and that were broadly accessible” as Ive puts it when conveying his admiration to Rams.
Though I am personally a huge fan of Ive’s and Rams’ ability to bring mass manufactured art to the masses through utter dedication to quality, following a set of guiding principles and “fanatical care beyond the obvious stuff,” no matter how successful and ground breaking the product is, it still is catered only to the wealthiest10%. Ive’s work thus far has already made history and forever transformed product design. His designs are innovative and useful yes, but only for the most wealthy in this world. His designs are durable and are consequent to the last detail yes, but are they able to withstand the test of time? No matter how remarkable the object is when coming out of Jony’s design studio, it will always be deemed consumable. After all, he is in the consumer electronics business. I would like to see Ive design for the rest of the world’s population. I would like to see sustainable design. Design that is for the environment rather than one that is merely concerned with the environment. Products that are built to last and get better with time perhaps. Yes, Ive’s work is ground breaking, but I believe it needs to break new grounds on new fronts. Not to say that Ive isn’t aware of his huge influence on society. As he puts it, “I also have a sense of being accountable as we really live, sometimes pretty painfully with the consequences of what we do.” Ive has huge potential to further transform the way we go about our daily business for the better. With the guidance and execution of Steve Jobs, Ive has already once changed the world as we know it (see: smartphones and portable music players), I sincerely hope his future holds new solutions to today’s overarching problem, sustainability.
Ive’s work has proved that design IS a competitive strategy. Design as a business model does indeed bring in money for those who care about money first and not good design for the sake of good design. Though Ive does not see himself as the business man, he undoubtedly is Apple’s biggest business asset for the future.
Ive on design as a competitive strategy:
“So many companies are competing against each other with similar agendas. Being superficially different is the goal of so many of the products we see. A preoccupation with differentiation is the concern of many corporations rather than trying to innovate and genuinely taking the time, investing the resources and caring enough to try and make something better.”
Finally, fellow designers, I will leave you with this:
Jony says it best
“A big definition of who you are as a designer is the way that you look at the world. And I guess it’s one of the curses of what you do; You’re constantly looking at something and thinking, why is it like that? Why is it like that and not like this? And so in that sense, you’re constantly designing.”
Additional media segments.
I highly encourage you all to watch ‘Objectified’ a feature-length documentary by Gary Hustwit about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. It is a very entertaining and informative film to watch. I definitely enjoyed it more the second time around after having been exposed to the material in our DACs class. The link to the trailer is below (that is Jony’s voice in the beginning.)
Jonathan Ive – 25/25 by Design Museum
Who is Jonathan Ive? – Businessweek, by Peter Burrows
Objectified – Gary Hustwit