After a series of unfortunate events including criticisms of his design decisions and problems with manufacturers in their complicated supply chain leading up to their largest new product release category in years, the notoriously public-shy Jony Ive has been opening up more to various media outlets as of late.

What makes these recent interviews interesting is not so much the fact that they have anything to do with Apple–Ive could be designing for Samsung for all I care–but rather, they paint a picture of what laid the foundation for an industrial designer that operates at the upper echelon of modern day business. The same could be said of Mark Parker over at Nike and a host of others.

Perhaps most importantly, how do those who start in industrial design wiping foam core shavings off of their sleeves end up in executive roles? How do they maintain their penchant for carrying around a sketchbook and two markers while zipping in and out of investor meetings?

The answers may seem obvious to some, but the interviews are interesting snapshots that go behind the scenes nonetheless.

More recently, Ive sat down with Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter for the magazine’s New Establishment Summit late last week in San Francisco. The two-day event paired leaders in the industry for a series of one-hour talks in front of a live audience. Other interviews included Elon Musk and Tony Fadell, among others.

Among other details Ive shared in his interview with Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter was a photograph of the first phone model he designed and why Steve Jobs’ dedication to focus was perhaps ‘illegal’:

Here are some highlights from the interview:

Why did you go back to rounded edges on the iPhone?

Jony: Years ago we made prototypes with bigger screens. They were interesting features having a bigger screen, but the end result was a lousy product because they were clunky like a lot of competitors’ phones are still. Years ago we realized this is going to be important that we have larger screens but we need to do a lot of things to make it a compelling product.

When did it happen that you could send out something so complex like the iPhone without instructions?

Jony: That’s what we try to do. I think for a lot of us, a large display that you can directly touch, seemed obvious and natural. It wasn’t the case 9 years ago when we were first working on it. If it was inevitable and obvious we would’ve done it years ago.

Talk about designing the watch.

Jony: Always been interested in watches. At first watches were designed before pockets were invented, so they were hung around necks. Then the pocketwatch happened. There were watches worn on fingers in the 17th century. For reasons of function, for reasons of utility, it ended up on the wrist. And you’ll notice it stayed there for over 100 years. It has now an historical gravitas. It’s a really great place to be able to glance quickly at information. When we started working on it, it seemed like a natural place for technology to end up.

Lessons working with Steve Jobs?

Jony: Focus. Steve was the most focused person I’ve met in my life. It’s terrifying that when you really truly focus, it seems a bit illegal. You can achieve so much. Steve would say “How many things have you said no to?” And I would have these sacrificial things…and he knew that I wasn’t interested in doing those things anyway. What focus means is saying no with every bone in your body to something you know is a good idea but you say no because you’re focused on something else.

I remember talking to Steve Jobs and asked why he was perceived as harsh. And I said couldn’t we be more moderate? And he said why? And I said because I care about the team. And he said: “No Jony, you’re just really vain. You just want people to like you. I’m surprised at you, because I thought you really held the work up as the most important and not how you are perceived by people.” People misunderstand Steve because he was so focused.

What do you think of Xiaomi, the Chinese startup often criticized for copying Apple designs?

Jony: There is a danger…I don’t see it as flattery. I see it as theft. (Talking about copying desings in general). When you’re doing something for the first time and you don’t know it’s going to work. I have to be honest the last thing I think is “Oh, that is flattering. All those weekends I could’ve been home with my family…I think it’s theft and lazy. I don’t think it’s OK at all.”

You can read the entire transcript over at Business Insider.


Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.