Apple designer ‘winces’ over some past product choices

(Ars Technica) — Apple’s prized product designer Jonathan (“Jony”) Ive is a constant source of fascination among the press — doubly so after the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Though Ive appears with relative frequency in news articles and documentaries, interest in his design philosophy has never let up. Perhaps that is because Ive has always spoken in an abstract, philosophical sense about the way he approaches design, which only seems to perpetuate the mystery surrounding one of Apple’s core talents.

In an extensive two-part interview published in UK newspaper The Telegraph on Wednesday, Ive discussed some of his product approaches as well as his attitudes toward design failures, Apple’s performance under newly minted CEO Tim Cook, and more.

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The interview itself is worth reading, but we took interest in a few highlights from throughout his discussion with The Telegraph. Among them:

— Contrary to popular belief, Ive says the iPad 2’s design was not inspired by the making of a samurai sword. Rumor after the iPad 2’s launch in 2011 was that Ive had traveled to Japan to watch the process of creating such a sword, which then translated to the “razor edge” of the iPad 2, but Ive insists this is just lore.

— Don’t like the stitched leather UI on a number of Apple’s iOS and Lion applications, like Find My Friends, Maps, and iCal? It seems that Ive doesn’t either — The Telegraph claims Ive “winced” when asked about the stitched leather, but gave a diplomatic response: “My focus is very much working with the other teams on the product ideas and then developing the hardware and so that’s our focus and that’s our responsibility. In terms of those elements you’re talking about, I’m not really connected to that.”

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— Ive says he thinks the products he’s currently working on are the “most important and the best work we’ve done.” This seems to fall along the company line of always hinting at the next big thing, but Ive heavily implies that some of Apple’s unreleased products are truly his best work. “[W]hich of course I can’t tell you about.”

— Ive acknowledges that not all of his designs are successful, but most of them remain behind closed doors. Still, it’s hard for him to part with a product design once the team decides the product just isn’t going to work.

“[T]here have been times when we’ve been working on a program and when we are at a very mature stage and we do have solutions and you have that sinking feeling because you’re trying to articulate the values to yourself and to others just a little bit too loudly,” he said. “And you have that sinking feeling that the fact that you are having to articulate the value and persuade other people is probably indicative of the fact that actually it’s not good enough. On a number of occasions we’ve actually all been honest with ourselves and said ‘you know, this isn’t good enough, we need to stop’. And that’s very difficult.”

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— On Tim Cook’s potential “failures” as a CEO compared to Steve Jobs, Ive strongly believes that won’t happen.

“We’re developing products in exactly the same way that we were two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago. It’s not that there are a few of us working in the same way: there is a large group of us working in the same way,” he said.

Ive, who has been knighted before the UK for his various achievements, was knighted once again on Wednesday for his services in design and enterprise.

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