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The art of keeping it simple

SMH | Oct. 25, 2011
Steve Jobs found a design soulmate in Jonathan Ive. In this extract from his new biography of Jobs, Walter Isaacson explores the bond between the two that cemented Apple's philosophy.

After graduation Ive helped to build a design firm in London, Tangerine, which got a consulting contract with Apple. In 1992 he moved to Cupertino to take a job in the Apple design department. He became the head of the department in 1996, the year before Jobs returned, but wasn't happy. Gil Amelio [then Apple's chief executive] had little appreciation for design.

''There wasn't that feeling of putting care into a product because we were trying to maximise the money we made,'' Ive said. ''All they wanted from us designers was a model of what something was supposed to look like on the outside and then engineers would make it as cheap as possible. I was about to quit.''

When Jobs took over and gave his pep talk, Ive decided to stick around. But Jobs at first looked around for a world-class designer from the outside. He talked to Richard Sapper, who designed the IBM Think Pad, and Giorgetto Giugiaro, who designed the Ferrari 250 and the Maserati Ghibli. But then he took a tour of Apple's design studio

and bonded with the affable, eager and very earnest Ive. ''We discussed approaches to forms and materials,'' Ive recalled. ''We were on the same wavelength. I suddenly understood why I loved the company.''

Ive reported, at least initially, to Jon Rubinstein, whom Jobs had brought in to head the hardware division, but he developed a direct and unusually strong relationship with Jobs. They began to have lunch together regularly and Jobs would end his day by dropping by Ive's design studio for a chat.

''Jony had a special status,'' said [Jobs's wife] Laurene Powell. ''He would come by our house and our families became close. Steve is never intentionally wounding to him. Most people in Steve's life are replaceable. But not Jony.''

Jobs described to me his respect for Ive: ''The difference that Jony has made, not only at Apple but in the world, is huge. He is a wickedly intelligent person in all ways. He understands business concepts, marketing concepts. He picks stuff up just like that, click. He understands what we do at our core better than anyone. If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it's Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together and then pull others in and say: 'Hey, what do you think about this?'

''He gets the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company. He's not just a designer. 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.''


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