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Future Tech: 

The design secrets of Jonathan Ive


Ever the secretive soul – what is Jony Ive hiding?

Well his designs aren’t really all that secret, are they?

Jonathan Ive may be Senior Vice President of design at Apple, but he hasn’t always had good taste. He used to drive to work in a Fiat 500 he called Mabel, and had to leave the sunroof open so his gigantic goth haircut could fly free – a gelled monster he admits was inspired by The Cure’s Robert Smith.

 Ideal Standard asked Ive to design a bidet and toilet but dismissed his designs 
His first design was a disaster. Asked to design a toilet and bidet for Ideal Standard, Ive studied everything from the physics of water to ancient history, and came up with something that looked like “a Greek God,” says Leander Kahney, author of the book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products. The client dismissed his designs as “too expensive”.

Perhaps his biggest design failure, however, was the G4 Cube. Dismal sales led to the product being discontinued by Apple in 2001, less than a year after its introduction — although it’s cult status is now assured. Ironically he now works INSIDE a glass cube.

His office is said to contain no family photos or awards, just a lamp, desk and chair. The chair is of particular importance, named Supporto by UK furniture Hille and described by Ive as “a masterpiece”.


Jony Ive has hailed his office chair, Supporto, ‘a masterpiece’

So, ummm, why exactly is this guy Apple’s head of design?

To put it simply, Ive’s product designs have defined a generation, and helped Apple on its way to becoming the world’s most valuable corporation.

His dedication to quality earned him the trust of Steve Jobs, who wanted to make the iPod grey before Ive convinced him that white could work – or “moon grey” as he pitched it to his boss. Jobs agreed – and history was made.

Ive admits that the white color that came to define iPod and iPad may have come from an unusual source – the helmets of the stormtroopers from Star Wars.

 Ive admits the iPod’s white colour may have come from the helmets of Star Wars stormtroopers 
Ive’s expenses bills must make for great reading too. His obsession with design led him to Japan to learn from Japanese sword masters creating a katana sword, and traveling to a boiled-sweet factory to get ideas for the first iMac.

When he designed the first iPad, he toyed with dozens of screen sizes, before the sudden realization that one the size of a sheet of A4 would make sense. 

Creating the iPhone and iPad actually happened at the same time – and both were agonizing. “Nothing worked,” Kahney said, and after several dozen prototypes, Steve Jobs took one look at the early iPad and dismissed it as “too casual”. Ive, once again, went back to the drawing board.

What does the future hold for Ive and Apple products?

The one that everyone is waiting on is iWatch, the product that is expected to do for wearable tech what the iPod did for MP3 players, or the iPad did for tablets. Yet, despite rampant speculation, Apple hasn’t confirmed it is even working on a smartwatch.

In a rare interview with The Sunday Times this year, Ive wouldn’t be drawn for comment. “Obviously, there are rumours about us working on it… and, obviously, I’m not going to talk about that. It’s a game of chess, isn’t it?” he teased.

The author behind Ive’s biography doesn’t believe he is going to make a watch – instead, he predicted Ive and his team will focus on bringing iOS to cars. “That could be a huge deal. That’s where most people listen to music,” Kahney says.

True enough, March saw the release of Apple Car Play which seeks to revolutionise the way we use iPhones on the road – making it easier than ever to get directions, make calls, send messages and listen to music safely and efficiently.

One would assume that the iPhone 6 is next in line, although as with all future projects Apple are being tight-lipped. That hasn’t stopped fans trying to predict Ive’s next move, though, such as this iPhone Air concept from Sam Beckett. Clearly Ive’s design bug is infectious.

  • Nick Bramer

    Great article! What a legend!

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