Adapted form “Sorry, no beige”
Ive: I started working with Apple as a consultant in the early 1990’s while I was a partner in a design firm called Tangerine in London. At the end of '92, I moved to San Francisco and started working in-house for Apple.
At Tangerine, I understand you were designing basins and bathtubs. Are their design considerations different from those of computers?
Ive: Very different. A washbasin has a single use, a computer has many. It can go from being a writing machine to an incredible multimedia tool to a drawing machine to a communications device. And it is still just one object. The way each person uses a computer can be very different. That makes the design possibilities intriguing.
How can design facilitate (allow / encourage) an understanding of the computer?
Ive: I see design as playing an important role in making a connection between Apple's spectacular technology and the individual. Very often design is the most immediate, the most explicit way of defining what these products become in people's minds. What is it? What does it do? How am I going to use it? Where am I going to use it? How much is it going to cost?
There's a widespread perception that computers in general have taken on a generic appearance, i.e., the standard beige box. Why do you think this has been the case?
Ive: I don't think this comes from the designers. I think it is because of cost considerations. That, therefore, defines the priorities for the designer. It is an industry that has become incredibly conservative from a design perspective. It is an industry where there is an obsession about product attributes that you can measure. How fast is it? How big is the hard drive? How fast is the CD? That is a very comfortable because you can say 8 is better than 6. But it's also very inhuman and very cold. In that sense, the industry has missed out on the more emotive, less tangible product attributes. But to me, that is why I bought an Apple computer in the first place. That is why I came to work for Apple. It's because I've always sensed that Apple had a desire to do more than the bare minimum.
Undoubtedly the most radical design produced by any computer company in recent years is the iMac. How did it come about?
Ive: Right from the beginning, this was very much driven by Steve Jobs (Apple’s current CEO and founding partner, and who appointed Jonathan Ive). Steve had a clear sense of what the product should be at all different levels--in terms of its functional capabilities, price, market, and what it needed to be as a designed object.
The radical form of the iMac must have provided your team with all kinds of design headaches.
Ive: Producing it has been incredibly difficult, one of the most challenging programs I have been involved with. When you are doing something that is so radically new, you can't work in functional groups. The design team worked closely with the engineering team because for one thing, the iMac footprint is very, very small. You have to integrate and miniaturize, and when you do that you have thermal (heat) considerations. You have to think about noise and fans. The iMac is truly a small, cool, quiet product. And it is really frightfully fast.
What kind of design problems did the translucent box present?
Ive: Everything about the iMac is so incredibly different. Because the iMac is translucent, we even had to design the shape of the circuit board. The translucent resin itself presented a problem because of the high volume of products we needed to produce. We had to make sure that the color and level of translucency were exactly the same in the first computer and every one thereafter. This led us to finding a partner who does a lot of work in the candy industry, because a lot of candies are translucent. These guys have so much experience in how you control the compounding and a great understanding of the science of color control. The mouse is another example where, because of the translucent material, we ended up designing the insides because they were part of the outside appearance. The mouse ball has two colors, so when you move the mouse around, you can see the colors changing.
In departing so boldly from traditional design, Apple really managed to differentiate the product. Was that the primary goal?
Ive: It is important to understand that our goal wasn't just to differentiate our product, but to create products that people would love in the future. Differentiation was a consequence of our goal.