Jony Ive by Leander Kahney (cover 002)

I’ve been following Leander Kahney for quite some time now, going all the way back to his Wired and The Guardian years. Kahney now runs the Cult of Mac Apple blog and he’s already published three books about technology and Apple’s culture: Inside Steve’s Brain, the New York Times bestseller about Steve Jobs, Cult of Mac about the creation of the Mac and Cult of iPod which chronicles how Apple’s music player came to be.

Building on the experiences in writing these books, Kahney has now taken a crack at demystifying Apple’s arguably most powerful executive after Tim Cook, the guy who put sexiness in Apple’s gadgets and flattened all your icons – 46-year-old British industrial designer Sir Jonathan Ive.

I’ve skimmed through the book and cherry-picked a few interesting anecdotes…

Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products was published by Penguin Portfolio on November 14 and today arrived in Apple’s iBooks Store, priced at $11.99.

Leander pitches the 320-page book as “the first full-length biography of the worlds’ most-celebrated designer” and claims it’s based on first-hand accounts and “a bunch of inside sources”.

“Different and new is relatively easy. Doing something that’s genuinely better is very hard.” —Jony Ive

I’d take that with a grain of salt as Leander is known for spicing things up a notch, though I do like his writing style a lot. That being said, his book rarely gets boring and you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down once you dive deep into it.

But why embark on writing another book about Apple?

Kahney explains:

Was it all Steve Jobs? Is the company doomed without him? What happens when one man gets all the credit? The truth is more complex. Apple wouldn’t be Apple without Steve Jobs, but it wasn’t just him. Jobs didn’t design anything, and he didn’t write any code. The creative work was done by others, though he had a hand in guiding it.

After his death it slowly became clear that his anointed successor in the creative department was his long-time colleague, Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of industrial design. Tim Cook might be CEO, but Jony Ive is the company’s creative guru. His ultra-secretive design lab is the innovation factory at the heart of Apple.

That’s why I wrote a book about him. There were too many myths. Too many rumors. Who is Jonathan Ive exactly? How did a quiet, polite Englishman become the creative lead for the world’s most innovative company?

Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products is also available over at Amazon priced at $11.99 for the Kindle edition, $16.77 for the hardcover version and $23.95 should you prefer the spoken word Audible variant ($14.95 if you have an Audible.com Gold membership).

Before I let you in on an interesting excerpt, here’s the blurb:

In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO with the unenviable task of turning around the company he had founded. One night, Jobs discovered a scruffy British designer toiling away at Apple’s corporate headquarters, surrounded by hundreds of sketches and prototypes. It was then that Jobs realized he had found a talent who could reverse the company’s long decline.

In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO with the unenviable task of turning around the company he had founded. One night, Jobs discovered a scruffy British designer toiling away at Apple’s corporate headquarters, surrounded by hundreds of sketches and prototypes. It was then that Jobs realized he had found a talent who could reverse the company’s long decline.

That young designer was Jony Ive.

Jony Ive’s collaboration with Jobs would produce some of the world’s most iconic technology products, including the iMac, iPod, iPad, and iPhone. The designs have not only made Apple a hugely valuable company, they’ve overturned entire industries, built a loyal fan base, and created a globally powerful brand. Along the way, Jony Ive has become the world’s leading technology innovator, won countless design awards, earned a place on the 2013 Time 100 list, and was even knighted for his “services to design and enterprise.”

Yet despite his triumphs, little is known about the shy and soft-spoken whiz whom Jobs referred to as his “spiritual partner” at Apple. Jony Ive reveals the true story of Apple’s real innovator-in-chief.

Leander Kahney, the bestselling author of Inside Steve’s Brain, offers a detailed portrait of a creative genius. He shows us how Jony Ive went from an English art school student with dyslexia to the man whose immense insights have altered the pattern of our lives. From his early interest in industrial design, fostered by his designer father, through his education at Newcastle Polytechnic and meteoric rise at Apple, we discover the principles and practices that he developed to become the designer of his generation. 

Based on interviews with Jony Ive’s former colleagues and Kahney’s own familiarity with the world of Apple, this book gives insight into how Jony Ive (now senior vice president of design) has redefined the ways in which we work, entertain, and communicate with one another.

I’m enjoying Jony Ive via iBooks on my Mac.

Jony Ive by Leander Kahney (foreword 001)Jony Ive by Leander Kahney (foreword 002)

Here’s a segment from Leander’s book which covers how Steve Jobs was already thinking about a tablet during iPhone development, as excerpted by Gizmodo:

One incentive to move forward was the appearance of netbooks, a category of small, inexpensive, low-powered laptops that launched in 2007. They quickly started to eat into laptop sales and, by 2009, netbooks accounted for 20 percent of the laptop market. But Apple never seriously considered making one. “Netbooks aren’t better than anything,” Steve Jobs said at the time. “They’re just cheap laptops.”2 Nonetheless, the subject came up several times in executive meetings.

During one such high-level executive meeting in 2008, Jony proposed that the tablets in his lab could be Apple’s answer to the netbook. Jony suggested that a tablet was basically an inexpensive laptop without the keyboard. The idea appealed to Jobs, and Jony was given the go-ahead to transform the prototypes into a real product.

Crucially, mobile technology had advanced significantly in just a few years since the iPhone had been launched. By then, the 035 tablet prototype from 2004 seemed big and unwieldy. But thanks to new screens and batteries, everyone understood that a tablet could be much lighter and slimmer. One of the major reasons the iPad hadn’t been green-lighted sooner was that the components like the screen and battery weren’t ready. “The technology was not there yet,” said a former Apple executive.

Jony began by ordering twenty models made in varying sizes and screen-aspect ratios. They were laid out on one of the studio’s project tables for Jony and Jobs to play with. “That’s how we nailed what the screen size was,” Jony has said.3 They had done the same thing earlier in finding the right size for the Mac mini and other products.

“Steve and Jony liked to do that with almost all products,” said a former engineer in the operations group. “They started off making a bunch of ‘appearance’ models and they’d make them in all sorts of sizes to find what they want.”

But, as often happens, recollections seem to vary. According to an executive at Apple at the time, the screen size was also strongly influenced by a simpler piece of equipment: a standard piece of paper. “The size of the tablet was that of a sheet of paper,” he explained. “It was conceived as a legal note tablet, and we thought that was the right size. It was targeted at education and schools and e-reading.” Hardware was still another factor, as the guts of the iPad would be based not on the iBook but the iPod touch. Early on, the iPad was understood to be, in effect, a scaled up touch-screen iPod.

Jony’s ultimate goal was to make a device that needed no explanation and was fully intuitive. It was to be a “breathtakingly simple, beautiful device, something that you really want, and something that’s very easily understandable,” Stringer said. “You pick it up, you use it, something that . . . needs no explanation.”

That said, producing the “breathtakingly simple” can require an immense investment of time and creative energy.

Making the Machine

Jony’s design team explored two different design directions for the iPad, directly akin to the twin design directions they pursued with the iPhone.

Based on the Extrudo design, the first approach built upon a case that resembled the extruded aluminum iPod mini. It was just bigger and flatter. The design lead on this version was Chris Stringer, who also worked on the Extrudo iPhone. As with the phone designs, Stringer’s Extrudo iPad was made of a single piece of extruded, milled aluminum. It, too, had plastic caps for the Wi-Fi and cell phone radios. In this case, though, sharp edges weren’t much of a concern; no one was going to press a tablet up to his or her face.

Jony’s ID team experimented with some “picture frame” models, larger than some of the iPad prototypes, which had kickstands to prop them up. (Kickstands would also feature prominently in competing tablets from Microsoft and other manufacturers in the future.) Jony’s team didn’t pursue the idea, although adding a kickstand would appear later in the iPad 2’s magnetic cover, which could be folded back into a stand.

The designers found Stringer’s Extrudo iPad suffered the same limitation as the Extrudo iPhone: The bezel detracted from the screen. As Jony put it, “How do we get out of the way so there aren’t a ton of features and buttons that distract from the display?” Again, Jony wanted the infinity-pool illusion because he understood the screen was all-important and that nothing should detract from it.

Meanwhile, Richard Howarth brought his experience with the Sandwich iPhone models to his prototypes, making several versions of Sandwich-style iPads. The early Sandwich iPad models resembled more svelte versions of the 035 prototype. Made of shiny white plastic with a boxy shape, they are clearly in the same design family as Apple’s plastic MacBooks, released early in 2006 – which makes sense given that they were designed largely by Howarth. Like the plastic MacBook, the device at that point remained fairly big and chunky. Still, Jony’s team was clearly homing in on how to present the screen, and the bezel was plain and unobtrusive.

As the design progressed, the new models got thinner, the edges sharper. Some had aluminum backs, but Jony’s team seemed to be veering in the direction of the Sandwich. Yet something bothered Jobs: Somehow the iPad wasn’t quite casual enough.

Jony spotted the problem. The iPad needed a cue, some sign that it was friendly and could be picked up easily with just one hand. As usual, Jony wanted to invite users to touch the device, pick it up and hold it and have a tactile experience.

The logical next step seemed to be adding handles, and Jony’s team experimented with them in an attempt to ease picking up the iPad. One of the later prototypes featured a pair of large plastic handles, making it look like a particularly inelegant TV dinner tray. When they realized the handle approach clearly wasn’t working, Jony’s team started exploring a tapered back that swept away underneath the screen, opening a gap for fingers to slide underneath.

As Jony’s team homed in on the iPad design, they were also completing work on the second-generation iPhone. Marketed as the iPhone 3G, to highlight its compatibility with new 3G cell phone networks, the 2008 follow-up dispensed with the original’s aluminum back plate in favor of a hard, polycarbonate plastic. Not surprisingly, then, the two simultaneous development projects shared numerous elements, as the iPad would also get a polycarbonate back, colored black or white, with a stainless steel bezel to marry the back plate to the screen.

Just as they agreed upon a design, however, production problems forced Jony to change it.

The plastic back of the iPhone 3G looks simple, but was extremely hard to manufacture. Jony and the team wanted to use a similar shell for the iPad (comprising a strong blend of polycarbonate and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), but it proved to be more difficult to manufacture at the larger iPad size, as the larger shell would shrink and warp when it came out of the mold. To stop it from shrinking at the edges, the shell was molded larger than it needed to be and machined down to size.

Even after molding, the shell still had to be polished to remove the part lines, then painted and machined again to prevent the paint shrinking around openings. The manufacturing process gained additional steps, with the openings painted over, then machined out before the installation of the buttons, the speaker grilles and the Apple logo on the back. The use of the plastic had made the entire process problematic. “You have to set those machining processes in the right order because if you machine before you paint, the chemistry of the paint relaxes the surface tension of the plastic and then the sink goes into other areas that you already machined,” [designer Doug] Satzger said. “It’s just easier to do it with aluminum than with plastic.”

Jony’s team went back to the drawing board and designed an aluminum back. They were comfortable with the material; they already had the process and the production lines down. The new aluminum back wasn’t as tapered as Jony would have liked. To give the iPad stiffness, the designers had to add a thin sidewall that gave it strength but made it thicker and bulkier than the planned plastic version.

When they were done, however, Jony’s team was excited by the stark minimalism of the device. “We had tried so many things,” remembered Chris Stringer. “But at the end of the day, we realized it needed to be its own self. We can’t copy ourselves. We wanted a unique form . . . a very anonymous object, not playing along with the lines of consumer electronics at all.”

The iPad they produced didn’t feel like anything else. As Stringer put it, “it felt like a new object.”

The book focuses on Ive’s upbringing, schooling, studying, how he was already a design whiz kid as a teenager and before he landed his first job at London’s top design shop Roberts Weaver Group.

The author then moves on to cover Ive’s work for the hip design startup Tangerine and documents how the designer eventually wound up in California to do some design work for Apple as a contractor.

Kahney does a great job explaining Ive’s design philosophy and what makes him tick while giving readers plenty of juicy bits to keep them coming back for more. Ive contains a bunch of anecdotes and stories that explain the chemistry between the designer and Steve Jobs.

Yes, the book also covers insider stories which detail how the two men collaborated on devices like the iPhone and iPad.

Get the book on iBooks Store, or on Amazon.

Special offer: for a limited time, you can get both the Jony Ive biography and Inside Steve’s Brain for only $19.57.

Fans of Kahney’s work should check out his other books:

Inside Steve’s Brain, available for $12.99 on iBooks Store, or on Amazon for $10.99
Cult of Mac, available for $17 from Amazon
Cult of iPod, available for $19 from Amazon

  • Christopher

    There podcast has been talking about this book allot. Def getting a copy of it

    • Tom

      *Their 😉

    • Christopher

      Love the two negative clicks

  • Luigi

    Im not saying all other company’s make ugly crap… but if you look at ipad’s, iphones, ipod’s of all sorts, the macbook pro’s the macbook air…. just looking at those things, they are beautiful, they just look right it’s hard to explain… Im not one of those crazy fan people that own every dam thing they make… ok in terms of hardware it may not be the best of the best, but as in terms of design, I have to hand it to this fine sir, they dude sure knows how to make something that you look at it and almost instantly you feel like buying one…

  • chumawumba

    Joy Ive for CEO 2014!

    • Not before Tim Cook’s restricted shares vest in ten years. So Jony Ive for CEO 2021…

      • chumawumba

        Or if Tim dies/resigns

    • batongxue

      Just let Jony concentrate on his DESIGN.
      Plus he doesn’t seem to be interested in CEO.

      • appleyay

        and his UI design is not good

      • batongxue

        UI is fine, actually very nice.
        I think you mean the icons are not OK.

  • Dave

    Jony Ive is a Sir? Never knew that.

  • Tony Trenkle Jr.

    Can Johnny Ive read the book to us? That’s what I want!

  • Kash Gummaraju

    Can’t believe I read it in Ive’s voice lol

  • Scarydude766

    In the “interesting excerpt” the first paragraph is repeated twice. That’s an error, right?

  • mav3rick

    Only if he stayed on hardware… iPhone 4S and iPod 4G are real art of design.

    • appleyay

      thats all he his good at..

  • appleyay

    eh…..