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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.

Like most designers, Ive enjoyed analysing the philosophy and the step-by-step thinking that went into a particular design. For Jobs, the process was more intuitive. He would point to models and sketches he liked and dump on the ones he didn't. Ive would then take the cues and develop the concepts Jobs blessed.

Ive was a fan of the German industrial designer Dieter Rams, who worked for the electronics firm Braun. Rams preached the gospel of ''Less but better'' and likewise Jobs and Ive wrestled with each new design to see how much they could simplify it. Ever since Apple's first brochure proclaimed ''Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication'', Jobs had aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering complexities, not ignoring them.

''It takes a lot of hard work,'' he said, ''to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.''

In Ive, Jobs met his soul mate in the quest for true rather than surface simplicity. Sitting in his design studio, Ive described his philosophy.

''Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn't just a visual style. It's not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity.

''To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it's manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.''

That was the fundamental principle Jobs and Ive shared. Design was not just about what a product looked like on the surface. It had to reflect the product's essence. ''In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer,'' Jobs told Fortune shortly after retaking the reins at Apple.

''But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers.''

As a result, the process of designing a product at Apple was integrally related to how it would be engineered and manufactured. Ive described one of Apple's Power Macs. ''We wanted to get rid of anything other than what was absolutely essential,'' he said. ''To do so required total collaboration between the designers, the product developers, the engineers and the manufacturing team. We kept going back to the beginning, again and again. Do we need that part? Can we get it to perform the function of the other four parts?''

 

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