Jony Ive’s innovative and creative designs have not only shaped Apple but they’ve also changed the way we interact with and think about technology. Unable to speak directly with the notoriously private designer, author Leander Kahney sought out Ive’s former Apple colleagues and friends to gain insight into the imaginative mind behind Apple’s most successful creations.
Zola: You said, “Writing a book about Apple is a world of pain and misery unrivaled by anything else in tech journalism.” What kept you going?
Leander Kahney: It’s a fascinating topic. I got sucked in. The more I learned, the harder it became to quit. It became clear that Jony Ive was perhaps the prime creative force at Apple. I wanted to learn how he and his team created such revolutionary products that have had such a profound influence on our world and culture. I also began to see some fascinating threads and symmetries in his life and career that no one had seen before. That’s what keeps you going in the end.
Zola: Why do you think Ive moved up the ranks at Apple—to the point where he only reported to Jobs—while others didn’t?
LK: Because he was the prime creative force. His design team was responsible for not just creating, but also conceiving, such giant breakthroughs as the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. He’s the prodigal son, the golden goose, and Apple’s MVP all rolled into one. Jobs ensured that his voice was first among equals.
Zola: Ive also worked on dozens of projects that never reached the shelves. Altogether what do you think is his greatest design moment?
LK: It’s a tough question because so many of the products have been the most important. The first iMac saved Apple. Without it, there would be no others. But then there’s the iPod, which transformed Apple from a niche computer company into a consumer electronics powerhouse, and led the way into finger-controlled mobile devices. But it’s got to be the iPhone, because it’s so transformative. Mobile, multitouch devices are delivering on the promise of the “personal computer” and it’s not hard to imagine that within a few short years, almost everyone on the planet will have one.
Zola: You’ve stated Ive is a quiet, polite man who doesn’t seek attention or fame. He doesn’t like receiving awards publicly, and he was embarrassed by his knighthood. Have you spoken to him since publishing the book?
LK: Unfortunately, I haven’t talked to him since the book was published. I have communicated with his personal assistant, but he hasn’t revealed how his boss feels about it. I did invite him to the book launch party; his assistant said he was out of town and unable to attend. One of his friends, who was interviewed for the book, said he was confident he’d like it.
Zola: You spoke with Douglas Satzger who shared fascinating stories about Apple and Ive. In an interview with The New York Times, you say he had never told these stories to anyone. What made him open up to you?
LK: Doug Satzger wanted an important part of industrial history to be told. No one else is talking, and he felt it was necessary that the story of these very important products should be told. These products are equivalent to the telephone or the automobile. They are truly transforming every aspect of the way we live and work. Just as we know the history of Henry Ford, Doug felt we should know the story of the iPhone. Of course, there’s a little bit of ego involved. He was part of it, and he wanted his contribution to get some measure of public recognition, along with everyone else.
After Doug talked, my researchers and I found other people to fill in the gaps and tell their stories also. There’s a lot more to be told, of course, but by the end I felt like we had a good chunk of the story.
Zola: Everyone wants to know what’s next in the tech industry. Jony Ive would be the best person to ask, but he is unavailable and would never reveal that information. That leaves you. You’ve researched him more than anyone else. What do you think the future holds?
LK: Jony Ive and his designers are working on three big new product areas that have the potential to be earth shakers:
1. An Apple TV. But calling it a TV is to underestimate it. It will be more like a living-room computer that will control the home as well as deliver entertainment.
2. Wearable technology. There are lots of rumors about an iWatch, but I think Jony Ive is looking at a much broader portfolio of technology-enhanced clothing. Think t-shirts that can monitor your heart and blood glucose levels, and warn you if you are eating too much or are about to have a heart attack.
3. Automotive technology. Apple has already announced that it’s bringing iOS to cars. It’s working with dozens of major car manufacturers. We already spend half of our lives in our cars, and the technology in them is fairly primitive. There are lots of improvements that Jony Ive can bring to the party.
However, when we see these products is still very much an open question. Apple is very patient and always has a very careful go-to-market strategy before releasing major new products. The TV, for example, depends less on the technology being ready than the content. Tim Cook will have to line up the NFL, NBA, and MLB before it’s launched (or at least one of them).
Zola: Do you have a favorite indie bookstore?
LK: I’d like to nominate the local bookstore in my neighborhood here in San Francisco: Badger Books on Cortland Ave.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.