As the man responsible for the design of iconic Apple products like the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, Jony Ive has earned worldwide acclaim and multiple awards for his work. On the other hand, despite his considerable fame as a designer, Ive maintains a fairly low profile in comparison to other Apple senior vice presidents. Although Ive helps introduce Apple’s new products, his participation at media events is usually limited to recorded video messages, instead of the live onstage appearances that many other Apple executives typically give. For this reason, Ive comes across as a bit more mysterious than many of his fellow senior vice presidents who regularly speak with the press.
The New Yorker recently published an in-depth profile of Ive that provided an unusually detailed look at his life both inside and outside of Apple. In the sweeping profile, Ive discusses everything from his close relationship with legendary company co-founder Steve Jobs, to the design process that led to the company’s latest product, the Apple Watch. Here are seven facts about Apple’s Jony Ive that you may not have known.
1. Ive loves cars, just not the ugly ones
With all the recent rumors about Apple’s development of an electric vehicle, it was interesting to note that Ive is a bit of a car aficionado. He and fellow designer Marc Newson regularly attend the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in England each year that features vintage sports cars. Ive also owns several impressive vehicles, including a Bentley Mulsanne and an Aston Martin DB4. “I’ve always loved the big old-school square Bentleys,” said Ive. “The reasons are entirely design-based.”
However, while Ive has a “design-based” love for old Bentleys, he is critical of many modern car designs. After spotting a Toyota Echo on the road, Ive critiqued its design. “It is baffling, isn’t it? It’s just nothing, isn’t it? It’s just insipid,” said Ive.
2. Ive helped design a lightsaber for Star Wars
According to J. J. Abrams, Ive offered “very specific” suggestions about lightsaber design that he incorporated into the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Although the first trailer for the film revealed a unique lightsaber with a crossguard, Ive denied having suggested that particular design feature. However, he did advise Abrams to consider redesigning the lightsaber as a “more analog and more primitive” weapon. “I thought it would be interesting if it were less precise, and just a little bit more spitty,” stated Ive.
While Ive may have provided input into the design of the latest lightsabers, he has previously drawn inspiration from Star Wars for his own work. Ive mentioned the influence that Star Wars had on him while discussing a Stormtrooper helmet that he selected to be included in a charity auction in 2013. “Star Wars was something that both Marc [Newson] and I grew up watching and it was really, really informative to our view of the future,” Ive told Charlie Rose. “This idea of having the baddies in bright white shiny armor was fantastic.”
3. Jobs and Ive hit it off immediately
Despite Steve Jobs’s reputation for abrasiveness, the co-founder and the designer became good friends almost immediately after first meeting each other. “I can’t really remember that happening really ever before, meeting somebody when it’s just like that,” said Ive, snapping his fingers. “It was the most bizarre thing, where we were both perhaps a little—a little bit odd. We weren’t used to clicking.”
This instant connection between the two men is even more surprising considering what Jobs’s first words to Ive were when he walked into the designer’s studio at Apple in 1997. “Fuck, you’ve not been very effective, have you?” said Jobs, according to Ive. However, as they talked, Ive recalled Jobs getting “really excited about our ability to work together.”
Jobs and Ive soon became close collaborators and maintained their friendship until Jobs’s death in 2011. Jobs later told his biographer Walter Isaacson that “If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony.” Ive called Jobs “my closest and my most loyal friend” at a memorial service for the former Apple CEO.
4. Ive’s design team is a close-knit group
Thanks in part to his relationship with Steve Jobs, Ive and his design team have an important position in the company’s hierarchy. Not surprisingly, the 19-member core Apple design team is an extremely close-knit group of people who take pride in their ability to dish out — as well as take — frank criticism.
“We put the product ahead of anything else,” observed Ive. “Let’s say we’re talking about something that I’ve done that’s ugly and ill-proportioned—because, believe you me, I can pull some beauties out of the old hat.”
As an example, color specialist Jody Akana recalled an orange-brown Ultrasuede cloth she had previously proposed for the interior of the gold Apple Watch Edition box. Ive criticized the material by noting its resemblance to “the carpeting in a dismal student apartment.”
The candor that Ive encourages not only helps the team develop its award-winning products; it also seems to foster a happy work environment. Ive noted that only two designers have left the design team in 15 years and one of those members left for health reasons.
5. Ive is not a fan of Steve Jobs’s authorized biography
Although Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of Jobs was made with the subject’s cooperation, Ive is not a fan of the book. “My regard couldn’t be any lower,” Ive said. Ive’s dislike of the Steve Jobs biography appears to be rooted in his friendship with Jobs, who is portrayed as someone who could be quite cruel at times in Isaacson’s book.
Ive recalled that he once criticized Jobs’s for his harsh assessment of a designer’s work. Jobs fired back that Ive was being vain by not giving honest feedback. “You don’t care about how they feel! You’re being vain, you want them to like you,” said Jobs, according to Ive. However, Ive noted that Jobs’s “intention, and motivation, wasn’t to be hurtful.”
6. Ive considered making an iPhone bigger than 5.5 inches
Not surprisingly for a designer that puts so much thought into every aspect of a product, Ive spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of various device sizes before settling on the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. Ive and other Apple employees evaluated different iPhone sizes by using them for days at a time. This process almost resulted in Apple making a device that was even bigger than the current iPhone 6 Plus.
“The first one we really felt good about was a 5.7,” noted Ive. “And then, sleeping on it, and coming back to it, it was just ‘Ah, that’s way too big.’ And then 5.6 still seems too big.” As succinctly stated by Tim Cook, “Jony didn’t pull out of his butt the 4.7 and the 5.5.”
7. The Apple Watch was Ive’s brainchild
One fact that was made clear in Ive’s profile in The New Yorker was that the designer was deeply involved in the Apple Watch project from start to finish. Since many aspects of Apple’s computer products are determined by engineers, Ive’s usual duty is to “skin” a product, as former Apple engineer Tony Fadell described it. However, when it came to the Apple Watch, Ive did the reverse and actually ordered the engineers to create its so-called “Digital Crown.” When asked if the Apple Watch “seemed more purely Ive’s than previous company products,” SVP of operations Jeff Williams simply answered, “Yes.”
Besides revealing his key role in the development of the Apple Watch, Ive also shared several details about when and how the concept originated. According to Ive, the idea for a smartwatch originated around the time of Jobs’s death. Part of Ive’s inspiration for the Apple Watch came from seeing early prototypes of Google Glass. As recalled by Ive, after seeing the prototype, it seemed clear to him that “the obvious and right place” for wearable tech was on the wrist.
Finally, Ive also revealed that his friend Marc Newson was a major contributor to the Apple Watch product, which may help explain why the renowned industrial designer was hired by Apple last year. Newson also has plenty of experience as a watch designer through his work at Ikepod, a watch company he founded in the 1990s. According to The New Yorker, Newson’s name will appear on patents related to the Apple Watch.
All quotes courtesy of The New Yorker unless otherwise stated.
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