Apple vice-president of industrial design, Jonathan Ive, made a rare public appearance at London's Design Museum, where he spoke frankly about Apple and his design career.

Ive - who leads the team that designed the iMac, iPod, PowerBook, iBook, Power Mac - every Apple product, is UK-born (Chingford), and studied at Newcastle Polytechnic. Ive spent time in Newcastle earlier this week, speaking with staff and students.

"So many students ask me about design movements and technology - but those things change", Ive told the audience, saying that he believes success as a designer is about, "focus and caring".

Ive looked back at his student years: "I remember throwing stuff away and starting again, because I thought it could be a lot better. I worked hard at college.

"I understand that if you are prepared to keep going, if you really, really care, I think that's fundamental," he advised.

Duty of care

Ive's care and attention to detail imbues the products Apple makes, and Apple as a company "isn't about making money, it's about making nice things", he said. "We make money to support our desire to make nice things," he stressed.

"It comes back to focus. There seems to be so much we can do with the stuff we are directly responsible for."

He added that, as a designer, remaining focused is critical: "As a designer you are naturally inquisitive, and would love to do this, that or another thing; we have focus".
Apple's focus remains simple: "Our goal is to develop the very best products we can, and if we do well, the company makes money."

Looking back to his early days, before Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned to the company, he recalled: "I remember at Apple when the goal was turnover, and the company lost billions. In one quarter we lost nearly $2 billion."

Jobs, of course, returned to Apple, and the design team "started work on the iMac on the day he returned to the company," said Ive.

Former Apple CEO John Sculley has sometimes claimed that he initiated Apple's iMac development. Ive denied this: "I've heard a couple of things - that's a myth."

In a rare show of sarcasm, he added: "Sure, we had loads of iMacs and iPods on the drawing board before Steve Jobs came back to the company."

Focus and simplicity

Apple and Ive are known for their attention to detail. "Simplicity speaks of the care of how our products are developed," he said, "it's not obvious how hard it was".

"It's not the design team, or the mechanical team, it's the company, and it's because the company does care.

He talked about his team's work on notebook Macs. "When we were developing the notebooks, we worked really, really, really hard to make sure that when you opened it up, the display was the display."

While many notebooks on the market encase their notebook displays within one-inch thick picture frame-type housings, or host control buttons around their notebook displays, Apple's focus on simplicity betrays its care for the customer experience. And even the simplicity of the experience of opening a PowerBook up was "non-trivial" to develop.

"One thing probably none of you have got a clue about," said Ive, speaking to the audience at the Design Museum, "We worked really, really hard to develop a mechanism that basically spring-loads the clutch so that at a point when you are opening it you counter-balance the display. And it's one of the points we spent so much time working out, so that the product was so much nicer than anything else."


Caring costs: "Sometimes in the middle of (working on things) you get this nagging doubt and just think 'does anyone else really care?'", Ive said.

The problems are hard, but solving them - even across different teams - "isn't political".

Apple's different teams, "think these things are as important as we do," Ive said. "I like that", he added.

"We all work really, really hard and pursue solutions that are really difficult, so we can make good products," he said.

"It has become more and more important to me that I work with a company I can believe in," he said.

This is a shortened version of the full report of Ive's talk at the Design Museum last night. The full report will appear in Macworld magazine's Mac Expo issue, which reaches newsagents on November 18.