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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.

Ever since he had a special power supply made for the Apple II, Jobs has cared about not only the engineering but also the design of such parts. His name is listed on the patent for the white power brick used by the MacBook as well as its magnetic connector with its satisfying click. In fact, he is listed as one of the inventors for 212 different Apple patents in the United States as of the beginning of 2011.

Ive and Jobs have even obsessed over, and patented, the packaging for various Apple products. US patent D558572, for example, granted on January 1, 2008, is for the iPod Nano box, with four drawings showing how the device is nestled in a cradle when the box is opened. Patent D596485, issued on July 21, 2009, is for the iPhone packaging, with its sturdy lid and little glossy plastic tray inside.

Early on, Mike Markkula [Apple co-founder] had taught Jobs to ''impute'' - to understand that people do judge a book by its cover - and therefore to make sure all the trappings and packaging of Apple signalled there was a beautiful gem inside. Whether it's an iPod Mini or a MacBook Pro, Apple customers know the feeling of opening the well-crafted box and finding the product nestled in an inviting fashion.

''Steve and I spend a lot of time on the packaging,'' said Ive. ''I love the process of unpacking something. You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theatre, it can create a story.''

Ive, who has the sensitive temperament of an artist, at times got upset with Jobs for taking too much credit, a habit that has bothered other colleagues over the years. His personal feelings for Jobs were so intense that at times he got easily bruised. ''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','' Ive said. ''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.''

Ive also has bristled when outsiders portrayed Jobs as the only ideas guy at Apple. ''That makes us vulnerable as a company,'' Ive said earnestly, his voice soft. But then he paused to recognise the role Jobs in fact played. ''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 through all the resistance to turn our ideas into products.''

This is an edited extract from Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, published today by Little, Brown ($45).


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