Design education is "tragic" says Jonathan Ive

So the watch – just like for telling the time – is very good for these quick in and out things. When you step back and you think about it, it’s bizarre, that it’s Wednesday afternoon at 3 and there’s nothing. “If it’s not very good we should just stop it, even if we’ve spent a lot of money trying to develop it. We can make anything any shape, but that’s just being bloody minded”One of the things that drives me potty is this idea that you can have a random shape, and then you think let’s make this bit in wood and that bit in plastic. And I realised a couple of things: one, technically actually I was quite proficient and there was nothing wrong with me whatsoever, and the computers the college had were absolutely dreadful. During the hour long event, Ive also discussed the design of the iPhone and the recently revealed Apple Watch. “I don’t know anybody who has just had an idea and then will stand up in front of a group of people and try to explain this vague thought. I’m not saying that we get it right all the time, but at least our intent is to really, really care. Those discussions can become hopelessly simplistic. I don’t think we want to wear the same thing. We spent a huge amount of our time working on designing machines. And we trust that if people like them, they’ll buy them. What we make completely testifies to who we are”This was the beginning of this realisation that what we make completely testifies to who we are. The one good thing about that is if you do care it is really conspicuous.”

Photography is by Andy Tyler. “To do something new and truly innovative, does require you reject reason. Each time there is some sort of barrier, we don’t know whether we are going to fail at that point of whether we are going to be able to manage to solve the problem. So I started working as a consultant and after a while I was persuaded to move and work full time. “You can distill that idea into a few sentences. “One of the biggest challenges that we found was that we wouldn’t all be sitting here wearing the same thing. “But how on earth can you do that if what you’re responsible to produce is a three dimensional object?”
Ive was speaking in conversation with Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic at an event attended by a number of the UK’s leading designers, including Ive’s friend Marc Newson – who has recently joined Apple’s design team – as well as Terence Conran, Ron Arad and John Pawson. They stole our time, time we could have had with our families. And I think that is why we all find that there is a certain delight in what tend to be singular function objects, because there’s less of a requirement on the technology. And sometimes you see car interior sketches, where, obviously there’s form and there’s divisions of forms and some lovely colouring in – those boys can do a really good colouring in – and then there are these arbitrary bits of wood. The first thing you do is typically huge – you can put wheels on it and drive it around – so you make it smaller. When you make the very first physical manifestation of what the idea was, everything changes. It’s there, and it includes a lot of people. “It’s machined from solid aluminium. Plastic doesn’t actually do very well if you want to do thin, thin, thin, flat surfaces. The big architectural ideas were there. It’s made it better. I actually feel quite strongly about it. Through the object that I was sat in front of, I had a very clear sense of the people that made it. And the reason that we did that was because we thought it was the right thing. But how on earth can you do that if what you’re responsible to produce is a three dimensional object? So what we’re doing has a sort of robust historical precedent. It’s one of the fantastic things that I feel so fortunate to work with a group of people who are very comfortable with that ‘yeah it’s not good enough we should stop doing this’ and we don’t talk about all the money we’ve just spent. It’s funny – I was talking to somebody and they said do you think when somebody copies what you do it’s flattering? But I think it’s wrong to make something different for the sake of being different.”
On the biggest challenge for designers:
“I would say the priority is that we learn how to care and we learn how to fail and that we’re prepared to screw up the work that we’ve done and throw it away even if we don’t know what we’re going to do instead. And that had never happened to me before. We trust that if we’re successful and we make good products, that people will like them. The sad thing is that so much of what we’re surrounded by in the physical world that is a product of manufacture, so much of it testifies to carelessness. It wasn’t for us, it wasn’t us exorcising our demons, it was because we thought it was the right thing. I really believe that to do something new you’re rejecting reason”Imagine that you’ve got ten projects that you’re working on and you actually really truly believe that each of those could have a profound impact on culture in a good way. They’re different. I think you typically want to make it smaller. It’s the most profound shift. It’s a very difficult thing to do. There is nothing at all. I think it comes back to really where your heart is, really what it is that you want to do.”
On the product development process and copying:
“Of course with any invention there’s the list of things that’s good and there’s the list of things that’s challenging. “We use the most sophisticated tools that we can to help us model and to help us prototype. Jonathan Ive and Deyan Sudjic in conversation at London’s Design MuseumPicking up on statements he originally made in 2012, Ive said that Apple – named the world’s most valuable brand by Forbes in 2013 – had become one of the world’s biggest companies by not chasing profit and instead focusing on “integrity”. And you think, wood’s not that shape. Because to do something new and truly innovative, does require you reject reason. It’s not copying, it’s theft. There’s this odd thing that happens: when we’re working with technology, if we struggle, for some reason we assume the problem’s us. Good design for me starts with that determination and motivation and I don’t think there’s anything, ever, that’s good that’s come from carelessness. Our goal is to desperately try to make the best products we can. No. “If you look at the work of the studio, and you think, 80 per cent of this isn’t going to work. And then at 5, there’s an idea. Why is your first reaction to start doing Alias renderings of glass cups?”
Ive studied industrial design in Newcastle in the 1980s, before moving to California to join Apple in 1992. “It’s offensive culturally, because it shows a disregard for our fellow human.”
“The sad thing is that so much of what we’re surrounded by in the physical world that is a product of manufacture, so much of it testifies to carelessness. There are many decisions that we make that might not appear to make fiscal sense, which is why the motivation that I’ve just described is so important. You can’t make those decisions, you can’t read about it, you gain that experience by making. There are a lot of people I’m sure that [will still] attach great value and importance to a single singular function product that is many years old.”
On how design has changed since he was a student:
“I think the skills are essentially the same. And of course we know you can’t separate form from materials and certain plastics won’t do well for certain shapes. It’s a client, but I don’t actually like this client at all – not as in they are awkward to work with, but I just think their values stink.’ And I somehow felt I was aligning with them and I was abdicating a responsibility – an honourable responsibility, whereas Apple I really loved. You hope that people can tell the difference.”
Ive also hit out again at companies that copy Apple’s designs, which he said take up to eight years of design development work to produce. I actually feel quite strongly about it. Particularly at the beginning of ideas, we have to have incredible discipline to listen really hard. That’s what you really do and you really believe. “I went and met people and when I went back I was working independently in London and Apple got in touch – they were looking for somebody to work with. I don’t think that for something to win, something has to lose”For those products that we are going to use for so many hours every day and are at that point of interface where there is incredible intimacy between us and other people that we care about the most, I think what it means is that we need to invest as much care as we can in how we develop them, as much care as possible in the materials we use, as much as in how we make them. Well, they might do behind my back.” If we’re eating something and the food tastes horrible we think the food is disgusting… Most designers are too quick to give in to pressures from marketing departments and corporations, but Apple’s products have a more uniform aesthetic because there is no reason to change them, he added. It’s scary, and we’ve been there on many occasions where you’ve spent this much money and I’m talking too loud to try and convince myself that it’s OK and it’s not. So that’s how I ended up there in 1992.”
On designing the Apple watch:
“This leap is a really significant one. The practice is what I think makes good design. It’s machined from solid aluminium. You can’t disconnect material from the form. And then you make it better. It’s not so open to interpretation. “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 Ive. And that’s exactly what happened. There is this sort of natural part of our condition, which is when you see something new there is a desire to do a few things. I’m not saying you’ve got to prototype everything using a coping saw,” said Ive. So these computers, which I couldn’t use, I just assumed it was some kind of technological ineptitude on my part. But it’s true. What’s really hard is better. Designers cave in to marketing, to the corporate agenda, which is sort of ‘oh it looks like the last one, can’t we make it look different?’ Well no, there’s no reason to.”
“We have a strong philosophy – you could call it formulaic or you could say it’s a philosophy – and we will develop product to that philosophy. There’s integrity there. “We use the most sophisticated tools that we can to help us model and to help us prototype. The parallels between what happened with the technology associated with timekeeping and what we’re facing is really quite uncanny. To really believe we could make a better product. I can’t justify that extraordinary additional amount of money to make it other than it’s the right thing to do. In terms of the design team and the core creative team from an industrial design point of view, I think there’s about 17 or 18 of us. So once you’ve got the proof of concept and hey look it works and then somebody… Which is why we developed this system not a single product. We don’t make any more cathode ray tube-based products and every product we make has a flat panel display. You make it more reliable. When I’ve explained to people before and said ‘well we screwed this up, we parked this,’ normally I can say ‘and look what we went on to do’. “We’ve tried very hard to be very clear, and this is absolutely sincere, that our goal at Apple isn’t to make money,” he said. The one good thing about that is if you do care it is really conspicuous.”
One the lack of longevity in modern products:
“They can not last so long because they are used multiple hours of every day. “We may seem a little testy when things we have been working on for eight years are copied in six months – but it wasn’t inevitable that it was going to work.”
“It’s not copying, it’s theft. In the same way that they can sense carelessness. I’d really like not to grow much more.”
On Apple’s design philosophy:
“We won’t do something different for different’s sake. To realise we can end up somewhere very different if we make these decisions. We trust that if we’re successful and we make good products, that people will like them. There’s integrity there. If you expect me to buy something where all I can sense is carelessness, actually I think that is personally offensive. It’s the actually making them real. News: Apple’s head designer Jonathan Ive says he struggles to hire young staff as schools are failing to teach them how to make products. It’s a really beautiful thing to say. It’s great if the ultimate result was to be a graphic image, that’s fine. No.”
Ive said that to create something new, designers had to “reject reason” and accept when a project wasn’t working and stop working on it, even if significant money has already been invested. The forms that you could develop – it wasn’t just there’s a certain form in this material you could get away with – depending on the metal, certain metals when you bend them they bend in a very, very particular way. You hope that people can tell the difference. “We’re not naive. I can’t justify that extraordinary additional amount of money to make it other than it’s the right thing to do. And also how we make the products has changed dramatically because we’ve learned so much and they’ve become so much better. They can not last as long as you wish they did because the technology that is now available is so much more compelling. Because workshops in design schools are expensive and computers are cheaper. So many of the designers that we interview don’t know how to make stuff. And that’s a good motivation. But it’s very good to see who just texted you, or if you’re walking and use it just to see was that left or right. This is part of what I like about being involved in product design – it always starts off as a conversation and a thought. A computer rendering can make a really dreadful design look palatable. The watch is very good for these quick in and out things”The wrist is an amazing place to put technology. So it tends to be exclusive and fragile. We’re not naive. But I still think it’s the most extraordinary process. I think it’s harder now. “If you expect me to buy something where all I can sense is carelessness, actually I think that is personally offensive,” he said. In February, Bucks New University revealed it was closing the UK’s leading furniture design course, while Falmouth University in south west England shut down its “costly” and “space-intensive” Contemporary Crafts degree earlier this month in favour of more computer-based courses. “We’d made plastic power books and we wanted to make metal ones for obvious reason, because we could make them thinner and lighter and stronger. It’s a consequence.”
“You can look at something we’ve done and it costs a lot more to make it the way that we want to make it. His comments come in the wake of a series of design course closures in Britain that have been attributed to the costs associated with facilities needed for making physical objects. I’m not saying you’ve got to prototype everything using a coping saw. “It comes back to motivation and a sense of why are you doing this. One of the sad things is – and this is why perhaps we may seem a little testy when things we have been working on for eight years are copied in six months – but it wasn’t inevitable that it was going to work. It’s a flexible system, so hopefully it will be appealing, but there’s still a very singular idea. I think it’s harder now”That’s just tragic, that you can spend four years of your life studying the design of three dimensional objects and not make one. Why is your first reaction to start doing Alias renderings of glass cups? It’s funny – I was talking to somebody and they said do you think when somebody copies what you do it’s flattering? And the problem is when you do that, the behaviours, what that looks like, can make you look a bit odd.”
“We won’t do something different for different’s sake. Operationally we are effective and we know what we’re doing and so we will make money. For example the phone, there were so many times when it really didn’t look like that was going to work and we nearly stopped. Operationally we are effective and we know what we’re doing and so we will make money. “One thing that really struck me when I was consulting was I was working very, very hard, and just these odd things struck me. I really believe that to do something new you’re rejecting reason.”
On designing the iPhone:
“We all really hated our phones. You’re only going to use it a certain way – you’re obviously not going to write a dissertation!

Updated: 14.11.2014 — 05:55