Apple Design Chief Jony Ive sat down with the director of London's Design Museum last night for a lengthy chat about creating products, education, and getting ripped off, among many other topics. Dezeen attended the event and has transcribed a good many of Ive's responses, so you should head over there to if you want to read everything, but a few things in particular stand out.
"Designers cave in to marketing, to the corporate agenda."
For one, Ive shed some light on Apple's decision to give its smartwatch a far more customizable design than anything else it's made. "One of the biggest challenges that we found was that we wouldn't all be sitting here wearing the same thing. I don't think we want to wear the same thing," Ive says, "which is why we developed this system, not a single product." Ive goes on to call it a "flexible system" that maintains a "singular idea." The result was one of the more striking aspects of the Apple Watch's design that we noticed when it was first unveiled — just by changing the watch's band, the device's entire style appears to shift.
Ive says that his design team at Apple has now grown to 17 or 18 people and that no one has yet to leave it. He doesn't want to see the team grow much further. As for why his team doesn't redesign products every year, the same way that many other tech companies do, Ive says that it's a matter of not bending to what marketing teams want. "We won't do something different for different's sake. I could start today and do something completely different, that's really easy," Ive says. "What's really hard is better. I feel really strongly about this. Designers cave in to marketing, to the corporate agenda, which is sort of 'Oh it looks like the last one, can't we make it look different?' Well no, there's no reason to."
Pointing to the iMac as an example, Ive says that its design changes have been a progression based on changes in technology. "The iMac was based on a spherical tube that took many people to lift, so of course the form should change and the materials should change," he says. "We don't make any more cathode ray tube-based products and every product we make has a flat panel display."
"Things we have been working on for eight years are copied in six months."
Ive says that a priority for designers must be learning how to fail. "We're prepared to screw up the work that we've done and throw it away even if we don't know what we're going to do instead," Ive says. "When I've explained to people before and said, 'Well we screwed this up, we parked this,' normally I can say 'and look what we went on to do.'"
That process is also the reason that Ive isn't buying the phrase about copying being a form of flattery. "If you look at the work of the studio, and you think, 80 percent of this isn't going to work. One of the sad things is – and this is why perhaps we may seem a little testy when things we have been working on for eight years are copied in six months – but it wasn't inevitable that it was going to work. ... It's not copying, it's theft. They stole our time, time we could have had with our families. I actually feel quite strongly about it. It's funny – I was talking to somebody, and they said do you think when somebody copies what you do it's flattering? No." Apple has, of course, made it quite clear how it feels about other companies taking inspiration from its designs, having gone through two major lawsuits against Samsung already. Those battles appear to have subsided for the time being.
Ive doesn't go into incredible detail about his work at Apple, but there's a lot of general design advice that he presents over the course of the interview. Given how widely used products bearing his design are, they may just be worth reading — even if his remarks aren't too specific. There's more at Dezeen.