Jony Ive discusses 20 years of iconic Apple designs and that pricey new coffee table book

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Apple is releasing a pricey book, titled “Designed by Apple in California,” in which it chronicles many iconically designed products it’s churned out over the span of past 20 years. Discussing the book’s launch, Chief Design Office Jony Ive sat down with Tony Chambers of to explain why the iPhone maker set out to publish this book in the first place. Plus, Ive reflects on the nature of objects, the fragility of ideas and much more.

“We’ve been so consumed by our current and future work we came to realize we didn’t have a catalogue of the physical products,” Ive told the site. That’s why Ive and his team set out to chronicle “how we work, our values, our preoccupations and our goals” about eight years ago.

That would mean work on the book started just as Apple was gearing up to announce its second-generation iPhone, the iPhone 3G, as late CEO Steve Jobs took his first leave of absence from Apple due to health complications.

The goal of the book: give fans the opportunity to explore Apple gadgets out of their functional context and see them in a context of the subsequent products. More importantly, through eye-catching photography the book details “how you transform a raw material into a product that you recognize and hopefully use as a daily tool” because not many people really have much of a sense of how their manufactured environment came to be.

On how his small design team nurtures ideas:

One of the things that we’ve learned is the importance of listening. Because as we all know, the very best ideas can very often come from the quietest voice. Ideas are extremely fragile. Ideas are not predictable in terms of when you’ll have them and how many you are going to have.

And so over the years, we’ve really created at team and an environment that I think really increases the probability of good ideas and when they actually arrive I think nurtures them.

One of the chapters includes an anecdote revealing Apple had to create bespoke, high-performance tungsten carbide cutting tools, pictured below, in order to give the iPhone 4’s stainless steel bezel immaculate sheen.

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Ive said:

We were intrigued how we could objectively describe, define and catalogue the objects and try to give people a sense of how they were made. Not how they were designed, but how they came to be. How they were manufactured and how you can transform these often-anonymous materials into something that is valuable and useful.

Because many of the pictured products are white, they had to ditch off-the-shelf printing processes for custom inks and forms of paper from British papermaker James Cropper so that product photography featured in the book could live up to Apple’s high standards of quality and presentation.

Ive, who’s in charge of all design across Apple and has spent half his life with the Cupertino company, reveals his team actually had to go out and buy back old products for photographer Andrew Zuckerman to capture them “in a deliberately spare style” for the hardbound book, set to be released tomorrow.

“Many of the products that you see, we actually had to go out and purchase,” said Ive. “It’s a rather shameful admission, but it’s just not an area that we really invested much time or energy in.”

The only image that Zuckerman did not photograph specifically for this book is this famous photo of an iPod aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour.

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Ive explains:

The first image in the book is of the very first iMac. We used the same composition as the launch shot in the 1990s. But we reshot every single product [for the book]. As the project has taken so long we actually had to go back and re-photograph some of earlier products because of how photographic technology had changed and improved.

The images of the later products were superior to the earlier ones, so we had to go back to the beginning to keep that perfect consistency throughout the book. Nasa images are quite extraordinary. We were poring over these one day and noticed an iPod on the dashboard, resting up there. I thought that was so funny – it was both humbling and humorous.

Wallpaper’s Chambers describes “Designed by Apple in California” as “a quiet and elegant work, a high-quality piece of book design, typography and production” that’s “a paean to good, useful design and manufacturing.”

“It is a book with very few words,” Ive wrote in the book’s foreword.

“It is about our products, their physical nature and how they were made.’ The pages that follow trace two stratospheric decades of product design with the effortlessness that’s become synonymous with the company,” he continued.

“Designed by Apple in California” is being sent to all the major design colleges in the world. Ive says they’re keen to get it into the hands of young people who are studying design disciplines. “It’s very important that it’s an educational resource as well,“ he said.

The book will be available starting Wednesday, November 16, in both small $199 edition (10.20″ x 12.75″) and the larger (13″ x 16.25″) variant, costing $299. You can purchase it from in Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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The book is dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs and is being published by Apple itself.

If you cannot bring yourself to paying up to $300 for a coffee table book in which Apple basically tells how awesome it is, consider if you will Jonathan Zufi’s excellent $79 book from three years ago, titled “Iconic,” that covers the entire history of Apple’s products, not just the past twenty years.

Do check out the rest of Ive’s interview with, it’s a terrific read.