Author Leander Kahney considers designer Jony Ive to be the unsung genius behind products such as the iPod and the iPad, and one of the reasons Apple will keep its creative edge beyond the era of Steve Jobs.
Kahney, a former writer for Wired who has written three books about Apple, is the author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products, which examines the work of Ive's industrial design studio.
“He and his design team came up with most, if not all of the products, of the last 12 years, starting with iMac, the iPod, iPhone, iPad,” Kahney said in an interview with CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange.
“People think of designers as people who make products look pretty, look good, but this is really the primary R&D arm of Apple. They take care of the products all the way from inception through to manufacture.”
Ive is a private man who has long been in the shadow of Jobs, Kahney said, but Jobs considered him a kind of “spiritual partner.”
“They’re two peas in a pod. They’re both design obsessive and they’re both very much product people – they love to make new and groundbreaking products and they worked extremely closely together,” said Kahney, who also wrote Inside Steve's Brain and publishes the blog The Cult of Mac.
Like Jobs, Ive is very hands-on and thinks visually, which has led Apple to make advances in its user interface ahead of its competitors.
How Ive works
“The way the design department works is they go from sketches to models.. very quickly,” Kahney said.
“All their decisions about products – the shape and the functionality — revolves around making very detailed models and putting them in their hands and deciding whether they feel right, so it’s a very visual and physical process.”
British-born Ive was raised in Stafford and educated at Newcastle Polytechnic, moving to California in 1992 when he was offered a job by Apple. In his book, Kahney argues that Ive is now the creative core of the company.
It’s not unusual for Apple to put three years of intensive R&D into a product, exploring avenues that may not work, Kahney said. It’s a patient company, which will sit on products until it believes the time is right, he added.
“They’ve been on the quiet side in the last couple years without Steve. A lot of people think they are in trouble because they’ve not released some groundbreaking revolutionary product. It’s been more of the same, more iPads, more iPhones – and nothing that’s broken into new markets, but I’m 100 per cent sure that they have a lot of stuff in the lab.”
Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products will be released Nov. 28.