Why Steve Jobs called Jony Ive ‘vain’

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Photo: Apple
Photo: Apple

As someone who seems to care far more about the perfection of the beautiful objects he creates than about the trappings of celebrity, one word you’d be unlikely to associated with Apple’s design guru Jony Ive is “vain.”

According to a story told by Ive at yesterday’s Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit that’s exactly the accusation that was once levelled at him by Steve Jobs, however.

Here’s why:

“I remember having a conversation with [Steve] and I was asking why it could have been perceived that in his critique of a piece of work he was a little harsh. We’d been working on this [project] and we’d put our heart and soul into this, and I was saying, ‘Couldn’t we … moderate the things we said?’

And he said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘ Because I care about the team.’ And he said this brutally, brilliantly insightful thing, which was, ’No Jony, you’re just really vain.’ He said, ‘You just want people to like you, and I’m surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.’

I was terribly cross, because I knew he was right.”

Ive also shared another lesson about the importance of focus he learned during his 15-year association with Apple’s late cofounder and CEO:

“This sounds really simplistic, but it still shocks me how few people actually practice this — and it’s a struggle to practice — is this issue of focus. Steve was the most remarkably focused person I’ve ever met in my life. And the thing with focus is it’s not this thing you aspire to, or you decide on Monday, I’m going to be focused. It is an every minute, ‘Why are we talking about this? This is what we’re working on.’ You can achieve so much when you truly focus.

One of the things that Steve would say, because I think he was concerned that I wasn’t, he would say, ‘How many things have you said no to?’ And honestly I would have these sacrificial things, because I wanted to be very honest about it, so I’d say, ‘I said no to this and no to that.’ But he knew that I wasn’t vaguely interested in doing those things anyway, so there was no real sacrifice.

What focus means is saying no to something that with every bone in body you think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you say no to it because you’re focusing on something else.”

The video can be watched in full below:

Source: Fortune

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  • Methinks Sir Jony is a tad full of himself.
    Why, oh why won’t anyone ever ask Mr. Style Guru
    what was he thinking when he knocked the leather look
    of the CONTACTS app, but, nevertheless,
    considered light gray text on a white background a better “design choice”?

    • The “leather look” was horrible, however, I’m not fond of the overly white look of iCal and Contacts, with thin and pale lettering that makes it hard to read. I much prefer the design aesthetic of the Snow Leopard era iCal and Contacts apps. The new beta for Yosemite has gone too far towards icons that look excessively flat and dull, especially the Finder icon which looks like it was designed by Hasbro for 5 year olds. Jony has done a great job with hardware, but I’m really not a fan of Yosemite at all. I may even skip this iteration of the Mac OS.

      • EDIT:
        “iPadCary, I agree.” Sheesh ….

    • herbaled

      I fully agree about the text. I often have to stare in order to read certain text because it is way too thin and light colored/contrasted. Whatever happened to “function over form”? Sure I want it to look nice, but the most important thing is that it’s optimally functional. And actually, the aesthetics of the wash-out icons ain’t that nice. Pastels can be nice in artwork but they suck when it comes to readable graphics.

  • Anthony Velazquez

    I love the new looks of iOS8 and Yosemite. I could never go back to previous versions after using them…

  • William Donelson

    Just look at Yosemite and iOS 7. Horrible, flat, bubble-gum interfaces. Interaction clues removed and hidden buttons galore, what a crock. Terrible fonts and styles. Jonny Ive should be confined to hardware boxes.

    • Tim Davydov

      Actually some Yosemite changed are wonderful. I hate quite a few as well, but a lot of them are very visually pleasing.

  • Pascal Brunet

    oh, I thought it was because he thought this song was about him…

  • Tim Davydov

    This is complete nonsense.
    Basic human desire to be accepted and liked by fellow men has nothing to do with vanity.
    Vanity is generated by ego, but so does ambition. Steve was extremely ego driven, and idiotic phrases “I thought you were all about work, but you just want people to like you” proves it once again.

    How about basic human empathy? He cared more about glorification of Apple
    and his own “dream” than anything else.

    I am very thankful for the products Apple makes, but let’s be honest. Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace, was a complete asshole. Obsessed with his dream that has nothing to do with changing humanity.

    He was as enlightened as a broken flashlight.

    Let’s just wait and see for the “iGeneration” to grow up. I live 6 miles away from Apple headquoters, and people around here are getting very disconnected from each other and reality.

    Yay! iPhones have changed the world! Let’s see where the change will lead us in the next 10 years.

    It is all about work and it is not about the people. Some society we live in.

    • Michael Smith

      Your bias has clouded your reading comprehension.
      Steve Jobs had a focused and uncompromising vision which can easily be misunderstood by the unenlightened as being an a**hole.
      Steve Jobs never said it was ALL about the work, he said that the work should be more important than what people think of you.
      Jony Ive understood it, I don’t see why you can’t.

      • Munkoli

        You’ve understood one thing Tim just said and weighed in with a fair comment that Jobs was being truthful and thus helpful to Ive by saying what he said. But you have misunderstood another point Tim was making about Jobs’ humanitarian aspect. Jobs had a vision that was supposed to be all about making society better and using technology to advance the soulful human experience. Instead the technology he put most into has become a poison, a further tool for capitalism to feed on our greed and superficiality. Upgrade mania – further wastage of earths resources, for what? So that people can post selfie’s on Instagram, bathing in narcissism, while simultaneously consuming all the crud that pop culture can possible force down their throat. The direction things took was probably not his fault though and being CEO of a large enterprise doesn’t give you complete power over things. But he definitely recognised the problems and didn’t even let his children use iPads, being all too aware of the detriment to humanity – the dopamine tricking consumerist experience he helped create and which is all pervasive now with the app culture.

        So, while I agree his “vision” was commendable and of high morality; a true artists ambition. The reality of the tech creations is far different and there is a darkside.

      • Michael Smith

        I don’t think Steve Jobs was a humanitarian or even cared about making society as a whole better. His vision was about making uncompromisingly great products that advanced the soulful human experience for the people that could appreciate and afford it.

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