updated 11:16 pm EDT, Mon July 30, 2012
Says quality products drive popularity, echoes Jobs
Apple's lead designer and Senior VP of Industrial Design, Sir Jonathan Ive, made comments at the British Embassy's Creative Summit on Monday that channeled those of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Ive said that the force driving the company -- and which distinguishes it from its competitors -- is that making money isn't the primary goal that shapes new products or ideas. Making great products, said Ive, is Apple's single-minded purpose.
"We're really pleased with our revenues," he said, "but our goal isn't to make money. It sounds a little flippant, but it's the truth." Ive noted that Jobs was able to turn Apple around in 1997 where others had failed by emphasizing great products rather than doing anything to turn up a profit. The company makes money, he argued, because Apple is successful at making both new and beautiful products. "If we are operationally competent [and have great products], we will make money," he added.
The sentiment is similar to thoughts expressed by Jobs in the earliest days of Apple, when he became a multi-millionaire after Apple went public. When asked how he felt about being rich, Jobs said that the money didn't matter to him that much because he "never did it for the money. The most important thing was what we were going to enable people to do with these products we were making."
Jobs later echoed that sentiment in early talks with then Google CEO Eric Schmidt over his contention that the Android OS had been largely stolen from Apple and other technologies. He told Schmidt that Apple wasn't interested in getting paid for the work that Jobs felt was stolen, but would fight the search giant to force it to "invent their own stuff." Current CEO Tim Cook has likewise demonstrated a steely determination to get competitors to compete against Apple fairly and use their own ideas rather than create knock-offs of Apple products -- such as the plethora of clearly MacBook Air-inspired ultraportables and iPad-like tablets.
Ive also tackled the subject of design itself, again citing one of his influences, former Braun designer Dieter Rams. "Really great design is hard," he said. "Good is the enemy of great ... innovation is really hard." He called design a "prerequisite" for any product and thus refuted the notion that the design was "important," since this implied that in some cases you could do without it. You can make products "carelessly, thoughtlessly," Ive said, adding that such efforts are "valueless." Or you can design a product, even one that is to be mass-produced, "and invest so many years of care and have so many people so driven" to make the product the best it can be "beyond any functional imperative that there is incredible value."
Many products outside or preceding Apple's sphere of influence, from certain kinds of cars to classic but ordinary household objects have maintained a presence and high regard in the public consciousness long beyond their shelf life -- including many of Rams' designs from Braun, as an example, or the domed Volkswagen Beetle. Apple's astonishing success from the late 90s onwards has been credited largely to the combination of Jobs' focus on building great products and Ive's ability to sculpt elegant yet practical casings that, at their best, fuse the technology inside and the outward appearance into a single functional unit that is as much a work of art as a commercial success.
Ive once again reiterated the discipline that Jobs insisted on at Apple and which he says has been key to the company's steady rise in popularity: "We say no to a lot of things that we want to do and are intrigued by ... so that we only work on a manageable amount of products and can invest an incredible amount of care on each of them." He described his excitement at the whole creative process, from a "barely-formed thought" to a prototype that "a table of people can ... start to understand it; it becomes inclusive and it galvanizes and points to a direction for effort."
Ive finished his talk by once again echoing Jobs, this time on the topic of market research. "It will guarantee mediocrity," he said, "and will only work out whether you are going to offend anyone." Ive has been quoted elsewhere as saying that the projects he and his team are working on now are some of "the most important and the best work" they've ever done.