If Steve Jobs was the heart of Apple, Jony Ive was the soul. Few people fully understand and appreciate the role Ive has played at Apple for almost a quarter of a century. The fact that Ive is one of the most quiet and private people, much the opposite of Jobs, only adds to the mystery of Apple’s most valuable designer. When I saw that Leander Kahney published a biography about Ive, I knew I had to read more about this giant in the world of design.
Unfortunately, because of his inclination towards privacy and reluctance to disclose personal matters in interviews, it is hard to call it a true biography of Jony Ive—especially when compared to tome Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It is more of a glimpse behind the curtain of Apple and its design thinking and process through the eyes of colleagues who worked closely with Ive.
It catalogues his upbringing, exposure to industrial design, and education through college. It flies through award after award Ive won during that time and the foundational pieces that formed his and Apple’s future design language. It follows his years at an industrial design start-up and the road that led him to Apple.
The most interesting parts of the book center around the products—because Apple is, in fact, in the product creation business. Kahney, through interviews on and off the record with key Apple employees (current and former), takes the reader through the design process of their favorite Apple products from the iMac to the iPad. All of their stories retold from the perspective of the designer who shaped their evolution. You are given glimpses of successes of Ive’s career (iMac, iPod, iPhone) as well as failures (Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, Power Mac G4 Cube), but everything points to the “why” behind Ive’s thinking.
As a designer myself, I found it fascinating to see the evolution of Ive’s thinking. Ideas he thought of in college somehow made their way back to designs 25 years later. The way he handled presenting new products to Steve Jobs evolved until he really began to shape the DNA of the products Apple made. The way IDg (Industrial Design Group) pushed the boundaries on technology by using materials never used before on computers where software hadn’t even been written yet. All a tribute to Jony Ive’s leadership and guidance to always push the envelope and make the best next product.
If you’re looking for a biography on arguably the modern world’s most influential designer, this book will not help. In fact, you will probably never get that book while Jony Ive is still alive. But, if you are looking for a book that will give you a different perspective on the story of the products so many people love from the eyes of the people who dreamed them up and created them under the leadership of the most influential designers of the modern world, then you might just find this book as engaging as I did.
While Steve Jobs’ death might have caused momentary heart-attack for those on the outside of Apple leaving them wondering what would happen when the most important individual would no longer be leading the charge, the soul of Apple continued to do what he always had done: design beautiful products for the world to love.