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The art of keeping it simple

SMH | Oct. 25, 2011
Steve Jobs found a design soulmate in Jonathan Ive. In this extract from his new biography of Jobs, Walter Isaacson explores the bond between the two that cemented Apple's philosophy.

When Steve Jobs gathered his top management for a pep talk just after he became ''iCEO'' in September 1997, sitting in the audience was a sensitive and passionate 30-year old Brit who was head of the company's design team.

Jonathan Ive, known to all as Jony, was planning to quit. He was sick of the company's focus on profit maximisation rather than product design. Jobs's talk led him to reconsider.

<em>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</em>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

''I remember very clearly Steve announcing that our goal is not just to make money but to make great products,'' Ive recalled. ''The decisions you make based on that philosophy are fundamentally different from the ones we had been making at Apple.'' Ive and Jobs would soon forge a bond that would lead to the greatest industrial design collaboration of their era.

Ive grew up in Chingford, a town on the north-east edge of London. His father was a silversmith who taught at the local college. ''He's a fantastic craftsman,'' Ive recalled. ''His Christmas gift to me would be one day of his time in his college workshop, during the Christmas break when no one else was there, helping me make whatever I dreamed up.''

The only condition was that Jony had to draw by hand what they planned to make. ''I always understood the beauty of things made by hand. I came to realise that what was really important was the care that was put into it. What I really despise is when I sense some carelessness in a product.''

Ive enrolled in Newcastle Polytechnic and spent his spare time and summers working at a design consultancy. One of his creations was a pen with a little ball on top that was fun to fiddle with. It helped give the owner a playful emotional connection to the pen. For his thesis he designed a microphone and earpiece - in purest white plastic - to communicate with hearing-impaired kids. His flat was filled with foam models he had made to help him perfect the design.

He also designed an ATM and a curved phone, both of which won awards from the Royal Society of Arts. Unlike some designers, he didn't just make beautiful sketches - he also focused on how the engineering and inner components would work. He had an epiphany in college when he was able to design on a Macintosh.

''I discovered the Mac and felt I had a connection with the people who were making this product,'' he recalled. ''I suddenly understood what a company was, or was supposed to be.''

 

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