British designer Jony Ive is the inspiration and creator of products that are familiar to millions. For a quarter of a century, it has been one of the main components of Apple's success in technology and design. Despite the seemingly inseparable connection, in 2019 Joni left the company and opened his own studio LoveFrom.
We retell the highlights of The Wall Street Journal article on the legendary designer's career and methods.
Jony Ive: Three years after Apple
Now Jony Ive speaks to reporters in the garden of Pacific Heights, a house nestled in the hills of San Francisco that has been converted into space for his own LoveFrom studio. One of his latest projects at Apple was Apple Park, the company's huge campus in California. The LoveFrom space is not that big, but everything from the exterior to the bathroom sink is designed by Ive. According to journalists, being in this space is like being inside a gesamtkunstwerk (a German term meaning "total work of art"). The designer clarifies that he created a place ideal for reflection.
Jony half-jokingly calls himself possessed. On his desk are piles of sketchbooks with mock-ups of door handles, landscape plans, sketches of AirPods… Almost all of these things have signature rounded corners, as if the designer is deliberately ridding the world of "sharp corners". Looking at these counters, you understand that before you is not just a picture, not just the appearance of something, but also dozens of ideas, solutions hidden inside. For example, the magnetic top of the AirPods case, which allows the headphones to always fall exactly into place. "I don’t know what I would do without magnets", Ive laughs. By making the case not just a place to store the earbuds, but also a charging station, he knew that users would be less likely to lose one of the earbuds, as they would tend to always put them inside the charging case.
"No other designer in the 21st century has touched so many people with their work. This makes Jony a unique individual", says Deyan Sudjic, director emeritus of the London Design Museum, referring to the millions of Apple users. "Despite the fact that we are immersed in screens and pixels, we still need physical objects. Ive is fascinated by materials and very concerned with how people use things". In part, this is why Joni starts the project not with sketches, but with a conversation. Discussion and reflection are the raw material with which he works. "Language has great power", says Ive. — If I say that I am going to design a chair, I say no to a thousand other ideas. If I say I'm going to solve a problem or make a person's life better, I'm open to a flood of ideas. And I don't know what the result will be. The problem is the only clear thing at the beginning of the work.
Jony Ive is one of the main components of Apple's success
As a child, Jony did not read well and was branded as an unsuccessful student quite early. But his talent as a draftsman, demonstrated in high school, landed him a place at Newcastle Polytechnic's School of Industrial Design, where he already stood out as one of the best.
In 1990, Quince was asked to design the look of Apple portable computers. It turned out that this was something like a test task, after which, in 1992, he was offered a job at Apple. Around this time, things began to go wrong for the company. One of the first developments of Jony Quince, the Newton tablet, was highly praised by critics, but almost ignored by consumers. Apple was on the brink of a takeover and Ive was considering leaving the company. On September 16, 1997, 12 years after his dismissal, Steve Jobs returns to Apple. Joni, who was 30 at the time, assumed that Jobs would prefer him to a more famous designer. But during their first meeting, Ive recalls, "I bonded with Steve in a way I never had before with anyone in a professional setting".
Ive and Jobs ate lunch together nearly every day, spending hours in the design studio turning ideas into real products. Launched in 1998, the iMac became a real hit thanks to its looks and the fact that it was designed as an all-in-one. By early 2001, the company had sold 5 million units and was enjoying success.
"Jony Quince’s role in Apple’s resurgence cannot be overestimated", says current CEO Tim Cook, who was with the company at the time. Ive controlled not only the creation of the design of devices, but also the process of their production. He flew to Apple factories in Thailand, Singapore, China and South Korea to ensure that the devices produced were exactly the same as prototypes. Sometimes Ive spent the night near the conveyor.
In 2001, the world saw the iPod with branded white headphones. In 2008, the super-thin MacBook Air, and in 2010, the iPad. All of these products were also designed with direct input from Jony Quince.
The main product during the time at Apple was the iPhone. It was introduced in 2007 and made the company a technological revolutionary, and Quince himself, as one of its creators, a celebrity. The iPhone has done away with keyboards in phones, giving owners the space to do anything on the big screen. Essentially, Apple put the computer in everyone's pocket.
Fragment of the presentation of the first iPhone, 2007
Throughout this time, starting in 2003, Steve Jobs was secretly battling pancreatic cancer. He died in October 2011. "I was there with Cook, Steve's wife, Lauren, and their kids the day he passed away. I feel lucky to have spent so much time with Steve!", Ive recalls. "After the death of Jobs and the appointment of Tim Cook as CEO of Apple, I pushed for projects that I believe will take the company into the future: wearable technology, including the Apple Watch and AirPods. I believed they would help people in many ways, from comfort to health care". Deyan Sudjic explains: "Joni has not just created watches. He took the form of a wrist bracelet known to people for centuries. This shows how well he understands our attitude to familiar things".
In 2017, Ive was Apple's chief design officer. In the same year, he introduced Apple Park, which he had conceived with Steve Jobs and Norman Foster. The huge ring aims to create ease of movement and interaction between departments for better progress. At LoveFrom, the offices are tiny but just as well interact with each other. Jony Ive left Apple as soon as he founded his company "to do something important and use what he learned". Above Avalon founder Neil Cybertron says: "If you look at Jony Quince's contribution to Apple, it's not just one or a few devices. This is the culture that he shaped and that the company uses today".
Tim Cook and Jony Ive at the Apple Park construction site
One of the first people Ive hired at LoveFrom was a staff writer. It helps put into words the ideas a team of designers, architects, and sound engineers come up with for Airbnb, Ferrari, and other clients. "Many people think that design is how something looks. This is an erroneous understanding. Design is how something works and interacts with you", says Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, who became one of Ive’s first clients after he left Apple. "Ive can combine classic, analog design with technical ideas. We talk almost every day. He advises Airbnb on everything from the logo to the strategy".
During the pandemic, Airbnb bookings dropped by 80%, but Ive advised Chesky not to cut spending on innovation, but rather to invest even more in development. This advice paid off.
"Success is the enemy of curiosity", says Ive. "I feel disgust when I watch those who are completely deprived of it. I get angry when the creative process is devalued, because in its most noble and open form, this activity involves several people coming together to interact for good. The realization came to me that creating something in a team is extremely difficult, but at the same time it’s really inspiring".