The world’s most famous industrial design lab is found at the ground floor of Apple’s corporate campus at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California. It’s arguably one of the most closely guarded offices on the planet. Even Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson was asked to interview Apple’s leading designer elsewhere most of the time. But one day in 2010, Jonathan Ive took the writer for a tour inside his design bunker. It holds “the future for the next three years”, the Briton told Isaacson. According to the just-released biography, the facility is as cutting-edge as cutting-edge gets.
Nobody gets past the guards without special access cards. The office has heavy locks and tinted windows. It features metallic gray decor and has powerful boom boxes that pump out techno and jazz music for a bunch of designers developing future design ideas. Expensive prototyping equipment can be seen inside and various machines to apply paint and make countless foam models of future products are everywhere.
Jobs would often visit Ive’s design lab to actively participate in the design process and his artistic sensibilities were crucial for Apple’s design prowess, Ive said:
In so many other companies, ideas and great design get lost in the process. The ideas that come from me and my team would have been completely irrelevant, nowhere, if Steve hadn’t been here to push us, work with us, and drive us through all the resistance to turn our ideas into products.
Apple’s design guru also tells how they often obsessed over the packaging for Apple products:
Steve and I spend a lot of time on the packaging. I love the process of unpacking something. You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theater, it can create a story.
But it wasn’t all peachy. The designer would at times get upset with his late boss for “taking too much credit”, which didn’t sit well with Ive’s introvert personality and especially his careful consideration to always put his team’s efforts first and foremost:
He will go through a process of looking at my ideas and say, ‘That’s no good. That’s not very good. I like that one.’ And later I will be sitting in the audience and he will be talking about it as if it was his idea. I pay maniacal attention to where an idea comes from, and I even keep notebooks filled with my ideas. So it hurts when he takes credit for one of my designs.
Over time, Ive would learn to avoid politics at Apple. This in part helped him become one of Apple’s most valuable assets.
Look no further than a lengthy BusinessWeek profile, which describes iOS chief Scott Forstall as having a fraught relationship with Jony Ive and hardware chief Bob Mansfield. It was so bad, sources claim, that Mansfield and Ive avoided meetings with Forstall unless Tim Cook was present. Yet, even under those circumstances best ideas would win, not people – which is saying a lot for gadgets that are textbook examples of hardware working in concert with software. Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive were also close friends. Jobs numerous times publicly referred to Ive as “one of my best friends in the whole world”, such as during the original iPhone introduction in January of 2007 or three and a half years later at the iPhone 4 unveiling.
Speaking at a private celebration of Steve Jobs’ life Apple organized for employees last week, Ive said this of Apple’s co-founder:
He was my closest and my most loyal friend. We worked together for nearly 15 years — and he still laughed at the way I said ‘aluminium.’
Next remark drew a laughter of acknowledgment (Ive calmly emphasized the last three words):
I loved the way he listened so intently. I loved his perception, his remarkable sensitivity and his surgically precise opinion.
Jobs would unfortunately pay the ultimate price for such a fanatical approach to the design process, Ive asserted:
Now, while hopefully the work appeared inevitable. Appeared simple, and easy, it really cost. It cost us all, didn’t it? But you know what? It cost him most. He cared the most. He worried the most deeply. He constantly questioned, ‘Is this good enough? Is this right?’
The design guru said they both enjoyed the journey itself, not the fruits of their labor:
Despite all his successes, all his achievements, he never presumed, he never assumed, that we would get there in the end. And when the ideas didn’t come, and when the prototypes failed, it was with great intent, with faith, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. But the joy of getting there. I loved his enthusiasm. His simple delight. Often, I think, mixed with some simple relief. Yeah, we got there, we got there in the end and it was good. You can see his smile can’t you? The celebration of making something great for everybody. Enjoying the defeat of cynicism. The rejection of reason. The rejection of being told 100 times, ‘You can’t do that.’ So his I think, was a victory for beauty, for purity. And as he would say, ‘For giving a damn.’
You can check out Ive’s speech by skimming to the 48:30 mark in the Celebrating Steve video Apple posted on its site.
Jony Ive shared moving memories about Steve Jobs with thousands of Apple employees at a private event organized at Apple’s corporate campus.