Apple’s designer Jonathan Ive is to receive a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List. Ive has said that he is “both humbled and sincerely grateful” for the award.
Apple’s senior vice president, industrial design, will receive the KBE for “services to design and enterprise”. He had previously received the CBE.
Ive joined Apple in 1992, becoming head of industrial design in 1998, the year in which the original iMac (below) was launched. Ive’s team went on to design the iPod, iPhone and iPad – a succession of beautiful, seductive products that are as intuitive to use as they are attractive to look at. But, at a time when designers are feeling grossly undervalued, it is to be hoped that Ive’s knighthood will bring recognition for perhaps a more enduring contribution to his field – in demonstrating the importance of design to the success of business, or, indeed, any organisation.
That importance wasn’t always understood, even at Apple. Before Steve Jobs’ return to the company he had founded in 1996, Ive had been feeling frustrated. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, in the period that Jobs was away from the company, engineers would hand over the guts of a machine and expect the designers just to put it all in a box. Under Jobs, design became integral to the entire process of product development.
Certainly Ive enjoyed an extremely close working relationship with Jobs. The latter is quoted as saying “If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony”. It’s remarkable just how much time Jobs and Ive apparently spent together: Isaacson says they would have lunch most days that Jobs was in the office and Jobs would routinely spend afternoons in Ive’s studio studying models and concepts.
But it was not all sweetness and light: according to Isaacson, Ive “got upset with Jobs for taking too much credit” for some ideas. “It hurts when he takes credit for one of my designs,” Isaacson quotes Ive as saying.
Of course, others have accused Ive of borrowing from Dieter Rams. For his part, Ive has always acknowledged his admiration for Rams and his ability to produce consistent, considered and beautiful products. Writing for the Telegraph last year, Rams noted one key similarity between them – that both enjoyed very close relationships with the heads of the businesses they worked for. “At Braun I always reported to Erwin and Artur Braun or, after their departure, the chairman of the board. It is the same in my relationship with the furniture manufacturer, Vitsoe, where I worked closely with the founder Niels Vitsoe and, since his death, Mark Adams,” Rams said.
The key question now is whether Ive will enjoy the same relationship with Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook as he did with Jobs. Some had predicted that Ive would step up to take on Jobs’ mantle at Apple himself instead of Cook. There were even (unsubstantiated) rumours in the UK press earlier in the year that Ive was considering returning to the UK. Ive’s knighthood comes at an intriguing time for both himself and the company he has done so much for.
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