Wide-ranging profile offers Jony Ive’s thoughts on cars, watches, the future and more

Jonathan Ive The New Yorker interview 001

The New Yorker’s February 2015 issue features a lengthy interview with British-born designer Jonathan Ive who is widely credited with helping revive Apple’s fortunes alongside his spiritual mentor Steve Jobs, who used to call Ive “my best friend in the whole world”.

Suggestively headlined “The Shape Of Things To Come,” the extensive profile offers deep insight into Ive’s brain and centers around topics like the Apple Watch, cars, creating the iPhone 6 and working with Steve Jobs.

Seriously, it’s an epic article you absolutely shouldn’t pass. It also covers other wide ranging topics and reveals a few previously unknown tidbits about Apple’s industrial design czar and his design process.

Here are the most interesting takeaways from the interview.

As a quick backgrounder, Jonathan Ive joined Apple back in 1992.

After Jobs returned from exile and discovered that Ive shares his design tastes, the designer’s career took off in a really big way.

Ive has designed the original iMac and MacBook and later products including the MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, Mac mini, iPod, iPod touch, iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, Apple Watch.

And of course, as of late 2012 he assumed responsibilities for all design across the company. Months later, he revamped iOS and last year redesigned OS X.

Ive is arguably the most influential industrial designer in the world and the most powerful figure within Apple after CEO Tim Cook. According to Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs gave Ive a unique position within the company.

“He’s not just a designer,” Jobs told Isaacson. “That’s why he works directly for me. He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me. There’s no one who can tell him what to do, or to butt out. That’s the way I set it up.”

On cars

Ive and fellow designer Marc Newson (whom Apple hired last September) is a huge fan of expensive rides, according to a biography of him by Cult of Mac editor Leander Kahney. Particularly fond of his Aston Martin and Bentley Mulsanne, Ive, who shares utter disdain for most modern cars with Newson, doesn’t mince words when a car like the Toyota Echo passes by.

Jony Ive Bentley image 001

“There are some shocking cars on the road,” Ive being a car nut said. “One person’s car is another person’s scenery.” To his right was a silver sedan with a jutting lower lip. Ive said, quietly, “For example.” As the disgraced car fell behind, I asked Ive to critique its design: “It is baffling, isn’t it? It’s just nothing, isn’t it? It’s just insipid.”

Fun fact: Apple’s SVP Operations Jeff Williams drives a Toyota.

On watches
Ive is known to have worn Ikepod’s “Megapod” watch, as shown in the photo below. Interestingly enough, this particular watch brand was designed by Marc Newson. Ive revealed to The New Yorker writer Ian Parker that the Apple Watch, the company’s foray into wearables, was conceived “close to Steve’s death” in late 2011.

Jonathna Ive wearing Ikepod Megapod watch

Early on, the famously shy and introverted designed figured out that people won’t want to wear the same-looking watch. Therefore, he insisted that Apple’s device be fashionable and offered in a range of bands, finishes, watch faces and styles.

The question, then, was “How do we create a huge range of products and still have a clear and singular opinion?” the article reads, “We could make aluminum, and stainless steel, and gold, and different alloys of gold”.

Hinting at future plans, Ive added, “We’ve not stopped.”

Why Apple’s Watch isn’t circular like the Moto 360?

“When a huge part of the function is lists of names or appointments, a circle doesn’t make any sense,” said the famed industrial designer. Responding to a comment that the Watch’s Digital Crown is not aligned in the center of the device, Ive explained that, had he centered the Digital Crown, the Watch would turn into a quite different product.

Apple Watch digital crown

“It’s just literal. And you could say, ‘Why is that an issue?’ Well, if it’s literally referencing what’s happened in the past, the information about what it does is then wrong.” The crown rotates, which is reassuring, but it doesn’t wind the watch or adjust hands. The goal, Ive said, was to create “the strangely familiar.”

The Watch’s OLED screen is covered by sapphire crystal, a “completely different structure” than glass. “And then the stainless steel is super-hardened. And the zirconia ceramic on the back is co-finished with sapphire as well,” he said of the device’s use of materials.

Had any traditional watchmaker attempted creating such a device, it “would cost so much money, it would be a hundred grand or something.”

Apple Watch (Retina display 001)

OLED technology offers blacker blacks versus LCD, making it easier to mask the point where, beneath a glass surface, a display ends and the Watch’s frame begins. OLED is also much more power efficient than the iPhone’s LCD screen.

He picked up his iPhone 6 and pressed the home button. “The whole of the display comes on,” he said. “That, to me, feels very, very old.”

By the way, Apple SVP Jeff Williams told the author of the piece that the Watch is more purely Ive’s than previous company products. Marc Newson also worked on the Watch project from the start, and his name will appear on the patents, according to the article.

On designing the iPhone 6

Ever wonder how exactly Apple has decided on the 4.7 and 5.5-inch screens sizes for the latest iPhones? According to CEO Tim Cook, “Jony didn’t pull out of his butt the 4.7 and the 5.5.” He’d originally designed a larger iPhone based on the architecture of the iPhone 4, but dismissed it as “clunky” and “uncompelling.”

It’s interesting that the iPhone 6 could have been even bigger. “The first one we really felt good about was a 5.7,” Ive recalled assessing early prototypes a few years ago.


He and his sixteen-strong design team had worn iPhone 6 prototypes for some time. Sleeping on it, it became evident to them that the 5.7-incher was just “way too big.” And then “5.6 still seems too big.”

Then they wound up lining up a bunch of iPhone 6 prototypes in Ive’s design bunker in Cupertino, with screen sizes at “every point-one of an inch, from four all the way through to well over six.”

iPhone 6 gray silver gold back camera

Based on that relentless testing, the decision was made to create a 5.5-inch phablet-class device. About that slightly protruding camera lens on the back of the iPhone 6? Ive said without it the phone would be slightly thicker so it was “a really very pragmatic optimization.”

On working with Steve Jobs

Soon after returning at Apple’s helm from exile in 1997, Jobs stumbled upon Ive in his design studio filled with hundreds of foam prototypes. At first, he half-jokingly criticized the designer for caring what people thought of him.

But soon the two men would start collaborating on what became the iMac and developed what would become the most productive friendship in technology.

jony ive

Bob Mansfield, Apple’s former senior hardware engineer, now semi-retired, said that Jobs wasn’t “the easiest guy to please” and remarked how Ive knew the right ways to handle his demanding boss’s demeanor. “Jony puts up with a lot, and, as a result of him doing it, people like me don’t have to.”

“My intuition’s good, but my ability to articulate what I feel was not very good — and remains not very good, frustratingly. And that’s what’s hard, with Steve not being here now,” Ive said.


  • A three-week vacation was the longest of his career.
  • Ive isn’t going anywhere and had discouraged the thought that Newson’s appointment portended his own eventual departure.
  • The past year had been “the most difficult” he’d experienced since joining Apple. “I just burnt myself into not being very well,” he said (he’d had pneumonia).
  • He absolutely loathes Walter Isaacson’s official bio book on Steve Jobs. “My regard couldn’t be any lower,” he said, contemptuously.
  • Ive’s list of celebrity friends include such names as Bono, J.J. Abrams, Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Martin and Stephen Fry.
  • He made what Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams recalled as “very specific” suggestions about the design of lightsabres. Of a redesigned weapon, Ive said it could be “more analog and more primitive, and I think, in that way, somehow more ominous.”
  • He has a Banksy print of the British Queen with a chimpanzee’s face hung up on his office wall.
  • A motivational poster in his office, created by Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher and well known in design circles, is headlined “Good F*****g Design Advice” followed by dozens of profanity-laden lines.
  • Ive’s design studio constantly plays “Euro douchepop” through some powerful sound system.
  • He was itching to smooth the corners of iPhone app icons. “They drove me crazy,” he said. “All I could see were these unresolved tangency breaks.”
  • Jody Akana, a member of Ive’s tight-knit design team, had proposed that an Ultrasuede cloth inside the box for a gold version of the Apple Watch should be an orangey-brown. Ive had objected with comic hyperbole, comparing it to the carpeting in a dismal student apartment.
  • Once Ive saw Google Glass, his first reaction was that the face “was the wrong place.”
  • SVP Bob Mansfield met Ive’s original Watch pitch with “a lot of resistance.” Mansfield, who once said that “Apple wants to build products for everybody,” wondered what the sales process would be like and questioned
    if the Watch would create “a divide between wealthy and less wealthy customers.”
  • Tim Cook lavished praise on Ive, saying “Jony has better taste than anyone I ever met in my life,” and Ive might not demur.
  • Ive’s studio largely designed the building’s “void slabs” of Apple’s upcoming Campus 2 building, which looks like a flying saucer. Not only that, forty-four hundred precast-concrete are being manufactured in an Apple-built factory in Woodland, California. The building’s circular design was originally “trilobal,” like a large Y.
  • Ive and Angela Ahrendts, former Burberry CEO and Apple’s new retail chief, are collaborating on an Apple Store redesign to better showcase the Watch.
  • Attending a design meeting at Apple is “like being in church when the priest walks in.”
  • Apple’s design culture is unforgiving. They have three recruiters who may find just one designer good enough to join the design group each year.

And here’s Ive holding an emotional speech at Steve Jobs’ memorial, which was held on the lawn at Apple’s 1 Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino, California.

The whole profile is a super fascinating, entertaining read for anyone interested to learn more about Apple’s inner workings and Ive’s design acumen.

I mean, even The Wall Street Journal’s Daisuke Wakabayashi is officially jealous of the piece! You’re highly advised to add the sprawling 16,000-word article to your reading list or just visit the source link below to read it right now.

Image top of post: Pari Dukovic / The New Yorker.

Source: The New Yorker