Lessons in craft from Jony Ive

I recently had drinks with a friend and the topic of Jony Ive's appearance with Marc Newson, on Charlie Rose came up. Even before he began mentioning his favorite moment, I knew instantly what it would be - care. Jony Ive, senior vice-president of design at Apple, doesn't give many interviews, yet he's the person responsible for so much of our modern technological culture. There were others who worked with him of course, no less than Steve Jobs and the Apple Industrial Design department to name but a few, but it would be almost impossible to overstate the influence Ive has had on the objects so many of us interact with every day. And he cares about those objects on a very human level.

I think one of the things that you get a sense of is the degree of care. How much did this group of people care to make this and make it right. And they didn't do it for themselves, it's in service to the people who are going to use or buy the product. I think there's something... The humanity of that, I think is extraordinary. [...] We believe - and it's very difficult to explain why - but I think part of the human condition is that we sense care. And sometimes it's easier to realize you sense carelessness. And I think, we're surrounded, our manufactured environment, and so much of it testifies to a complete lack of care. That's not about your attitude towards an object, it's about your attitude to each other. I think that commitment and passion - and it can become a fanaticism - of just really caring to get something right, whether you're going to see it or not, we do that for each other.

"Painting the back of the fence", "design is something people notice when it's missing" are often repeated, but in the interview Ive really lays out his deep passion for not just attention to detail, but attention to connection. How something looks and feels and works has an incredible impact on us as human beings. At a touch we can often tell if something is disposable, or if it was designed and built to endure, if it's trendy or if it's timeless, if it matters or if it does not. Is a cheap tablet or laptop really less expensive than one that costs twice as much but lasts three times as long? Is cheapness really a more important feature than delightfulness? I buy a lot of Apple hardware, but I've also bought a lot of junk, technological and otherwise, over the years. To hear Ive put his philosophy into words, it makes me appreciate the value of craft beyond Apple. It makes me value less, fewer, but better, all the more.

The other point that really resonated with me concerned how more than what. Ive expressed no interest in what something was, but an incredible interest in how it was made, in everything from the thought process to the manufacturing process behind it. That, to him, seemed miraculous.

We probably spend more time talking about how you make something than any other part of the process. [...] It's not about when something was designed or by whom. It's how it was made. [..] We naturally find that much more interesting than something's biography.

Apple will be making more iPhones and iPads. They'll be making more Macs. They'll be releasing iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 at some point next year. And they'll be doing new variations, and entirely new products at some point as well. Unless or until they go out of or radically change their business, these are the safest of assumptions. They're also the least interesting of things to report. The interesting part is how. What will be the design decisions? How will engineering achieve them? What choices will need to be made? What compromises? What repercussions will they cause? How will interface adapt and grow? How will the software and services evolve? What materials will they require and how will they be implemented? What holes still need to be filled and what problems still need to be solved?

That's the exciting stuff.

And it transcends Apple, of course. Hearing Ive talk about it, it makes me want to care more as a writer, editor, and podcaster. It makes me want to tackle harder problems and come up with better solutions for our readers, listeners, and viewers. It makes me want to craft better, and for better reasons.

Jony Ive doesn't like public speaking, which is a shame because he's excellent at it. Like his designs, I think he prefers to get out of the way and let the objects themselves do the speaking for him. If you haven't watched the interview yet, I can't recommend it enough. If you've already watched it, it's worth a repeat viewing. It's about as good an explanation as you're likely to get on what makes Apple, Apple.

  • Jony Ive and Marc Newson on Charlie Rose