12 design secrets spilled by Jony Ive

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The world's most famous designer, Jony Ive. Photo: Apple

Jony Ive made a rare public appearance at the Design Museum in London yesterday, where he discussed a range of topics with museum director Deyan Sudjic. Everything from the future of design, to Jony’s work at Apple popped up in the conversation, but the most intriguing parts where the insights into Jony’s design process.

Sir Jonathan told hopeful designers that great design requires you to reject reason and comes with an enormous amount of failure, but he also shared some insights on how he’s become so successful as Apple’s Senior VP of Design.

Here are 12 secrets for designers Jony spilled last night:

You are what you make

“What we make testifies who we are. People can sense care and can sense carelessness. This relates to respect for each other and carelessness is personally offensive.”

Great ideas start in conversations

“The best ideas start as conversations. A small change at the beginning of the design process defines an entirely different product at the end. At the start of the process the idea is just a thought- very fragile and exclusive. When the first physical manifestation is created everything changes. It is no longer exclusive, now it involves a lot of people.”

Stop rendering and start making

“So many of the designers that we interview don’t know how to make stuff, because workshops in design schools are expensive and computers are cheaper.” said Jony. “It is sad that so many designers don’t know how to make. CAD software can make a bad design look palatable! It is sad that four years can be spent on a 3D design course without making anything! People who are great at designing and making have a great advantage.”

Keep your team tight

Apple's Industrial Design team is spotted after the Apple Watch unveiling. Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac
Apple’s Industrial Design team is spotted after the Apple Watch unveiling. Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Apple’s Industrial Design team is harder to get into than the Illuminati, and part of the reason is because no one leaves. In the last 15 years, not one of the 18 designers has ditched Apple for greener pastures.

“I like to work in a small team. There is only 18 of us on the design team. Nobody has ever left”

Copying is not the sincerest form of flattery

“Eight years of work can be copied in six months. It wasn’t inevitable that it was going to work. A stolen design is stolen time. Is it flattering? No.”

Reject reason

“To design something really new and innovative you have to reject reason”

Making gadgets smaller is inevitable

Jony gets a lot of flak for shrinking Apple devices down to impossibly small form factors, but according to Ive, he’s not doing it to be cute, it’s just the inevitable progress of technology.

“It’s our human condition: when you see potent phenomenal technology you want to make it smaller cheaper better more reliable”

Spend energy on the stuff no one sees

“The inside of the phone we spent so much time on & it’s something that 99% of you will never see-because it’s the right thing.”

Don’t be different just to be different

Marc Newson and Jony Ive Photo: Vanity Fair
Marc Newson and Jony Ive Photo: Vanity Fair

“We wont be different for different’s sake. Different is easy. Make it pink and fluffy! Better is harder. Making something different often has a marketing and corporate agenda. When big things change (like displays go away or voice control takes over) make it different.”

If you’re not failing, you’re not trying

“We shouldn’t be afraid to fail- if we are not failing we are not pushing. 80% of the stuff in the studio is not going to work. If something is not good enough, stop doing it.”

Reject more ideas than you accept

Discussing his creative process, Jony says “there are 9 rejected ideas for every idea that works.”

Make good products and the money will come

“Our goal is to desperately make the best products we can. We’re not naive. We trust that if we’re successful and we make good products, that people will like them. And we trust that if people like them, they’ll buy them. And we figured out the operation and we’re effective. We know what we’re doing, so we’ll make money, but it’s a consequence.”

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  • aardman

    “Sir Ive”? Point of style. Sir goes with the first name, not the surname.

    • ThinkActive

      And you know what? The person that least minds whether that is, or is not, how it should be, is..Sir Jony Ive. (I guess btw).

      Let’s get hung up over what really matters, not what doesn’t.

      • Diogenes

        Enjoying your Nokia, are you ?

      • ThinkActive

        Not sure that you understood the point being made!

  • NoNonsense74

    Awesome tips !

  • Mietek Mielonka

    “Eight years of work can be copied in six months. It wasn’t inevitable that it was going to work. A stolen design is stolen time. Is it flattering? No.”
    Funny to say after bluntly ripping off Dieter Rams time after time after time.