Sir Jony Ive has led Apple’s design team since 1996. Along the way, he’s become a living legend in the design world, dreaming up the candy-coloured iMac, the music industry-disrupting iPod, and the world-changing iPhone — to name a few of the products that earned him hisknighthood.
This week, Time magazine published a rare interview with Ive
, in which he discussed what influenced him and how he approaches his work.
Here are seven fascinating things that Ive revealed about his creative process:
1. To understand the world, he’s been wrecking it since he was a kid.
Ive gets his creative streak from his father, who was a silversmith and lecturer on craft and design at a local college. Ive spent his childhood disassembling his family’s things and putting them back together again.
“Complete intrigue with the physical world starts by destroying it,” he says.
2. He keeps his workshop closed to anyone who doesn’t need to be there.
No one except for Ive, his team, and top Apple execs get to set foot inside his lab at Apple headquarters. The philosophy is similar to that of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who doesn’t allow anyone to visit the floor where the Amazon Kindle gets designed.
“The reason is, it’s the one place you can go and see everything we’re working on — all the designs, all the prototypes,” Ive says.
3. He’s worked with the same team for decades.
Ive’s design team is made up of only 15 or so members from the U.K., U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. More importantly, they have been working together for up to 20 years. That longevity means they can be completely honest: “We can be bitterly critical of our work,” he says. “The personal issues of ego have long since faded.”
4. He begins every project with a question.
Whenever Ive starts working on a project, he imagines what the product might do for people. After he’s established the product’s utility, he then begins to consider what it will actually look like. That follows the insight of Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen: To make products people want, you have to understand the “job” that customers are hiring their purchases to do.
5. He does his homework.
To get the frosty colour tones right for the iMac, Ive talked with jelly bean manufacturers. When he wanted to learn how to make super-thin metal for laptops, he sought out Japanese metalworkers. As Stanford design professor Tina Seelig says, creativity begins with observation — so when Ive wanted to learn more about an aspect of a design, he found the people who had the deepest experience with the material.
6. He makes products for people who care.
Apple’s products look like they were made for humans. As Ive explains, this isn’t an accident:
“We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. It’s tempting to think it’s because the people who use them don’t care — just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care. It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made. We make and sell a very, very large number of (hopefully) beautiful, well-made things. Our success is a victory for purity, integrity — for giving a damn.”
This echoes what Steve Jobs told the team behind the iPhone: not to design a phone that had a range of awesome functions, but to make a phone that people fall in love with.
7. He designs products that become part of people’s lives.
Technology is intimate stuff, Ive says. The earbuds in your ears, the phone next to your bed — those are close relationships. In this way, Apple seeks to integrate its products into people’s lives, and it’s that challenge of making powerful technology relatable to people that drew Ive to Apple in the first place.
“People have an incredibly personal relationship with what we make,” he says.
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