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Apple's Ive describes struggle for perfection in interview, calls copycat designs 'theft'

In an interview published on Sunday, Apple SVP of Design Jony Ive lifted a corner to Apple's veil of secrecy, offering a peek into his process of "making" and how an Apple product stands apart from other designs.

Jony Ive

Apple design chief Jony Ive discusses a special curated (RED) auction in 2013. | Source: Sotheby's


Sitting down for a rare in-depth interview (subscription required) as part of UK publication The Sunday Times' "Makers" series, Ive speaks candidly about working at Apple, the state of design and his thoughts on rival products.

While the article touches on a multitude of subjects, from Ive's early days as a fledgling designer to his relationship to late cofounder Steve Jobs, the through line is Apple. After entering the company in 1992, Ive now leads a team of "about 15" designers from Britain, America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Most members of the small cadre have worked together for 15 to 20 years, Ive says.

As for workflow, Ive starts each project by working out a product's function before applying form. He takes this theory of industrial design to the next level, sometimes poring over details for months. Ive says this quest for perfection is "an affliction designers are cursed with."

Ive does not consider any single device design to be his best work, but instead points to an idea that customers still value high-quality craftsmanship. That Apple has seen such huge success with its devices, which are by no means cheap, proves that many consumers still put value in quality over savings.

"We're surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects," Ive said. "It's tempting to think it's because the people who use them don't care — just like the people who make them. But what we've shown is that people do care."

He goes on to explain that consumers who buy Apple products don't simply like an iPhone or Mac because it looks pretty, but because "they care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made.""We make and sell a very, very large number of (hopefully) beautiful, well-made things. Our success is a victory for purity, integrity — for giving a damn." - Apple SVP of Design Jony Ive

"We make and sell a very, very large number of (hopefully) beautiful, well-made things," Ive said. "Our success is a victory for purity, integrity — for giving a damn."

The designer also talks about the difficulties of making a tech product "intimate," a subject Ive has touched on before in product launches like the iPhone 5s.

"The product you have in your hand, or put into your ear, or have in your pocket, is more personal than the product you have on your desk," Ive explains. "The struggle to make something as difficult and demanding as technology so intimately personal is what first attracted me to Apple. People have an incredibly personal relationship with what we make."

On that note, reporter John Arlidge asks Ive about the much-rumored "iWatch," a product that would by most definitions be intimate in design. The designer expectedly avoids answering, likening the usual cat-and-mouse questioning on future products to a game of chess.

When asked about his thoughts on rival companies that reference designs like that of the iPhone, Ive says, "It's theft." Without pointing fingers, he notes that copycat products are not just copying design, but "thousands and thousands of hours of struggle."

Ive and his design group have churned out a number of now-iconic Apple designs, including the iMac G3, the original iPod and iPhone.

The best years may be ahead, however, as Ive says, "We are at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products will be developed. When you think about technology and what it has enabled us to do so far, and what it will enable us to do in [the] future, we're not even close to any kind of limit. It's still so, so new."