Apple design guru Jony Ive has spoken out about design values, his thoughts about copycats and the future of Apple in a rare
interview with journalist John Aldridge, published in The Sunday Times and TIME this week, offering some insight into what goes on in the minds of Apple’s executives and behind the scenes at the company.
During the lengthy, insightful interview, Ive explained: “Objects and their manufacture are inseparable. You understand a product if you understand how it’s made. I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even began to think what they look like. More and more people do. There is a resurgence of the idea of craft.”
“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.”
Ive went on to explain that Apple’s success has shown that people do care about the quality of the devices they own. “It’s not just about aesthetics,” he said. “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.”
Ive said he and his team at Apple go over the details of each design extensively to perfect it. For example, he spent “months and months and months” getting the design of the iMac stand just right, he revealed. “When you realise how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”
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It’s this laborious design process that makes copycats a particularly severe blow to the company. “It’s theft,” said Ive. “What’s copied isn’t just a design, it’s thousands and thousands of hours of struggle. It’s only when you’ve achieved what you set out to do that you can say, ‘This was worth pursuing.’ It takes years of investment, years of pain.”
Ive works in a design studio that is only accessible to those core members of the design team and top Apple executives. Why? “Because it’s the one place you can go and see everything we’re working on – all the designs, all the prototypes,” said Ive. We really want to go there, don’t you? Ah well, we can only dream.
The core team consists of about 15 people, “smaller than you think” said Ive. “Most of us have worked together for 15 to 20 years. We can be bitterly critical of our work. The personal issues of ego have long since faded. Everyone I work with shares the same love of and respect for making.”
In addition to discussing the design process at Apple, Ive also reminisced about the time he spent working with the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. He suggested that, one of the reasons he worked so well with Jobs, despite their very different personalities, is that “When we were looking at objects, what our eyes physically saw and what we came to perceive were exactly the same. And we would ask the same questions, have the same curiosity about things.”
“We’d get to the hotel where we were going, we’d check in and I’d go up to my room,” he went on to describe. “I’d leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t unpack. I’d go and sit on the bed and wait for the inevitable call from Steve: ‘Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. Let’s go.'”
“So much has been written about Steve, and I don’t recognise my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a surgically precise opinion. Yes, it could sting,” Ive said. “Yes, he constantly questioned ‘Is this good enough? Is this right?’ but he was so clever. His ideas were bold and magnificent. They could such the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. And, oh, the joy of getting there!”
Of course, when talking about the future of the company, Ive took the traditional cryptic approach that Apple is known for, saying: “We are at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products will be developed. When you think about technology and what it has enabled us to do so far, and what it will enable us to do in future, we’re not even close to any kind of limit. It’s still so, so new.”
When asked whether he’d give up if Apple stopped making game-changing products, Ive said: “Yes. I’d stop. I’d make things for myself, for my friends at home instead. The bar needs to be high. I don’t think that will happen.”
(This article was updated on 19 March with further quotes and a link to TIME’s version of the interview).