On the day that Apple’s Jonathan Ive becomes Sir Jonathan Ive, the UK Telegraph prints a rare and revealing interview with the most important man in design today. The honour, he says, is “incredibly humbling”. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is design and make; it’s what I love doing. It’s great if you can find what you love to do. Finding it is one thing but then to be able to practice that and be preoccupied with that is another. I’m very aware of an incredible tradition in the UK of designing and making, and so to be recognised in this way is really wonderful.”
On Apple’s attention to detail “We do it because we think it’s right. Growing up, I enjoyed drawing but it was always in the service of an idea. I drew all the time and I enjoyed making. We try to develop products that seem somehow inevitable. That leaves you with the sense that that’s the only possible solution that makes sense. Our products are tools and we don’t want design to get in the way. We’re keenly aware that when we develop and make something and bring it to market that it really does speak to a set of values. And what preoccupies us is that sense of care, and what our products will not speak to is a schedule, what our products will not speak to is trying to respond to some corporate or competitive agenda. We’re very genuinely designing the best products that we can for people. Sometimes we're very close to a problem and we're investing incredible resources and time trying to resolve the smallest detail that is way beyond any sense of functional imperative... and we do it because we think it's right. It's the 'finishing the back of the drawer' - you can argue that people will never see it and it's very hard to, in any rational sense, describe why it's important but it just seems important. It's a way that you demonstrate that you care for the people that you are making these products for. I think we see ourselves as having a civic responsibility to do that. It's important. It's right. It's very hard to explain why."
On encountering a Mac for the first time “I suddenly realised that it wasn’t me at all. The computers that I had been expected to use were absolutely dreadful.”
On the essence of design "Design is a word that's come to mean so much that it's also a word that has come to mean nothing. We don't really talk about design, we talk about developing ideas and making products. Designing and developing anything of consequence is incredibly challenging. Our goal is to try to bring a calm and simplicity to what are incredibly complex problems so that you're not aware really of the solution, you're not aware of how hard the problem was that was eventually solved."
On simplicity "Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, that's a consequence of simplicity. Simplicity is somehow essentially describing the purpose and place of an object and product. The absence of clutter is just a clutter-free product. That's not simple. The quest for simplicity has to pervade every part of the process. It really is fundamental."
On working as a team "You can have this barely formed thought and then suddenly something does actually exist. Then that thought that is so tentative and so fragile normally becomes a tentative discussion and you're trying to bring body to the thought with words. Generally what happens is that's a conversation between a couple of people and is exclusive. And then you start to draw to try to describe and develop this fragile idea. Then a remarkable thing happens at the time you make the first object, the time that you actually give form and dimension to the idea. In the whole process, that's the one point where the transition is the most dramatic and suddenly you can involve multiple people. It brings focus and it can galvanise a group of people, which is enormously powerful.
On knowing when to give up "For a large percentage of a program, it often is not clear whether we are actually going to be able to solve the problems. For a significant percentage of the time we don't know whether we are going to have to give up on an idea or not. And that's been the case whether it's the iPod, the iPhone or the iPad. And there have been times when we've been working on a program and when we are at a very mature stage and we do have solutions and you have that sinking feeling because you're trying to articulate the values to yourself and to others just a little bit too loudly. And you have that feeling that the fact that you are having to articulate the value and persuade other people is probably indicative of the fact that actually it's not good enough."
On Apple without Steve "We're developing products in exactly the same way that we were two years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago. It's not that there are a few of us working in the same way: there is a large group of us working in the same way. One of the things that is particularly precious about working at Apple is that many of us on the design team have worked together for 15-plus years and there's a wonderful thing about learning as a group. A fundamental part of that is making mistakes together. There's no learning without trying lots of ideas and failing lots of times. We have become rather addicted to learning as a group of people and trying to solve very difficult problems as a team. And we get enormous satisfaction from doing that. Particularly when you're sat on a plane and it appears that the majority of people are using something that you've collectively agonised over. It's a wonderful reward."
Sign-up to receive weekly updates from Phaidon: