Ive was born in Chingford, London, United Kingdom. His father was a silversmith who lectured at Middlesex Polytechnic. “He’s a fantastic craftsman, his Christmas gift to me would be one day of his time in his college workshop, during the Christmas break when no one else was there, helping me make whatever I dreamed up”. Ive attended the Chingford Foundation School, then Walton High School in Stafford. During his high school years, Ive was passionate about cars and it was this interest that led to his later career as a designer. Following graduation from Walton, Ive explored the option of studying car design in London, such as the course offered at the Royal College of Art; however, he encountered a learning environment that was off-putting: “The classes were full of students making vroom! vroom! noises as they drew”.
Ive studied Industrial Design at Newcastle Polytechnic, which is now Northumbria University. Items from his student portfolio, such as a hearing aid design, were exhibited at the Design Museum in London. Ive had been interested in drawing and making anything he could think of. Since he was a teenager, he was unsure of what area to specialise in after leaving Newcastle. After meeting with various design experts, he was drawn to product design. He was given employment at London design agency Roberts Weaver group, his college sponsor. Ive graduated with a first class Bachelor of Arts degree in 1989.
Ive explained that his discovery of the Apple Mac, after “having a real problem with computers” during his later student years, was a turning point. Fearing he was “technically inept”, he felt the Apple user experience was a departure from the computer design at that time and was particularly impressed by the intuitive mouse-driven system.
After a year with Roberts Weaver, Ive joined a London startup design agency called Tangerine, located in Hoxton Square where he designed a diverse array of products, such as microwave ovens, toilets, drills and toothbrushes. However, his frustration with the position reached a turning point after he designed a toilet, bidet and sink for client Ideal Standard, and the company’s boss rejected Ive’s work, stating that the products were too costly and looked too modern. Ive was unhappy working for clients whom he disliked and who didn’t possess the same principles. Apple was a Tangerine client that Ive appreciated and he had been acting in a consultancy role for the computer firm while at Tangerine, creating the initial PowerBook designs. Apple had actually been attempting to recruit him as a full-time employee for two years without success.
Ive worked as a consultant for Apple’s Chief of Industrial Design at the time, Robert Brunner, and eventually became a full-time Apple employee in 1992. He designed the second generation of the Newton, the MessagePad 110, taking him to Taipei for the first time. Shortly before Jobs’s return to Apple, Ive nearly resigned from the company. Jon Rubinstein, Ive’s boss at the time, managed to retain Ive as an employee by explaining that Apple was “going to make history” following the revival of the company.
He became the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design in 1997 after the return of Jobs, and subsequently headed the industrial design team responsible for most of the company’s significant hardware products. Ive’s first design assignment was the iMac; it helped pave the way for many other designs such as theiPod and eventually the iPhone and the iPad. Jobs made design a chief focus of the firm’s product strategy, and Ive proceeded to establish the firm’s leading position with a series of functionally clean, aesthetically pleasing, and remarkably popular products. Ive explained the close rapport that existed in his working relationship with Jobs in 2014: “When we were looking at objects, what our eyes physically saw and what we came to perceive were exactly the same. And we would ask the same questions, have the same curiosity about things.” Ive described Jobs as “so clever”, with “bold” and “magnificent” ideas.
The work and principles of Dieter Rams, the chief designer at Braun from 1961 until 1995, influenced Ive’s work. In Gary Hustwit‘s documentary film Objectified(2009), Rams says that Apple is one of only a handful of companies existing today that design products according to Rams’ ten principles of “good design”.
Ive runs his own laboratory at Apple, in which he oversees the work of his appointed design team, and he is the only Apple designer with a private office. Only his core team — which consists of around 15 people from Britain, America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand (who have worked together for around two decades) — and top Apple executives are allowed into the laboratory, as it contains all of the concepts, including prototypes, that the design team is working on. Ive also refuses to allow his children to enter the laboratory. According to the Jobs biography, Ive’s design studio contains foam-cutting and printing machines, while the windows are tinted. Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson: “He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me.”
On 29 October 2012, Apple announced that “Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his role as the leader of Industrial Design.” With the WWDC13 announcement of iOS 7 and Ive’s role as principal, the Apple Press information was also updated to reflect his new title: Senior Vice President of Design.
The scheduled publication of an unofficial Ive biography was announced in late 2013. Written by Leander Kahney, who conducted interviews with former Apple designers and executives, the book is titled Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products.
In March 2014, Time magazine published a feature interview with Ive, in which he revealed an optimistic view of his future with Apple:
We are at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products will be developed. When you think about technology and what it has enabled us to do so far, and what it will enable us to do in future, we’re not even close to any kind of limit. It’s still so, so new … At Apple, there’s almost a joy in looking at your ignorance and realizing, ‘Wow, we’re going to learn about this and, by the time we’re done, we’re going to really understand and do something great.’ Apple is imperfect, like every large collection of people. But we have a rare quality. There is this almost pre-verbal, instinctive understanding about what we do, why we do it. We share the same values.
In the same interview, Ive stated that he hopes that his best work is yet to emerge and that he prefers to be identified as a maker of products, rather than a designer. Ive believes that there is “a resurgence of the idea of craft” in 2014.
On 26 May 2015, Apple announced that Ive was promoted to the new role of Chief Design Officer.Ive is one of only four C-level executive at Apple along with CEO Tim Cook, CFO Luca Maestri and COO Jeff Williams.
Steve Jobs considered Ive to be his “spiritual partner at Apple“, while Fortune magazine stated in 2010 that Apple design motifs Ive’s designs have “set the course not just for Apple but for design more broadly”. He also serves as the narrator for most of Apple’s product reveal videos. Actor Giles Matthey portrayed him in the 2013 film “Jobs”.