The Subtle Jonathan Ive

Photograph by Patrick Fraser

In 1991, when Jonathan Ive was toiling away at a hip London design firm, little did he know that sculpting bathroom sinks for one client would lead to a career crafting computers for another. Or that he’d end up changing the way the world looks at technology.

That computer client was Apple, and based on Ive’s work on the PowerBook it hired him full-time a year later. His charge: realize founder Steve Jobs’s edict to produce “nsanely great” products. From flat-panel displays on disappearing legs to matte aluminum notebooks and touchpad iPods, the instant recognition of all things Apple is the handiwork of Ive – now 37 and the company’s vice president of industrial design – and his team.

Which is where the bathroom sink comes in. With little provocation Ive offers a gloves-off critique of the landscape of consumer electronics: “So many are desperately waving their designer tails at us,” he says with scorn. “It’s a frantic search to create just another shape.”

A beautifully crafted wash basin, on the other hand, achieves Ive’s platonic ideal, in which “form and function are one and the same.” To achieve this with a computer takes a fiercely reductive rigor. “We try to evolve and evolve a product until the inevitability of it almost appears undesigned,” explains the soft-spoken Brit. The genius of Ive’s designs is that they are so perfectly obvious, so duh, they just couldn’t have come out any other way.

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