Design prodigy to fill Apple's creative gap

By Peter Burrows

Apple lost its technology visionary in Steve Jobs, who died yesterday, leaving head product designer Jonathan Ive with the responsibility of filling the creative gap.

Ive has been Jobs' foremost creative partner within Apple, says Eric Chan, who runs Ecco Design, an industrial design firm.

Ive oversaw the development that led to devices such as the iMac, iPod (pictured right), iPhone and iPad, honing a close working relationship with Jobs after the late co-founder returned to Apple in 1997.

A design prodigy who won a British student award twice while attending Northumbria University in the 1980s, Ive said in 2006 that his goal "is not self-expression. It's to make something that looks like it wasn't really designed at all - because it's inevitable".

That's been the case since his college days, says Clive Grinyer, who went to school with him. Grinyer recalled visiting Ive's apartment and being shocked to see hundreds of foam models of a single product. Each one was good enough to have been the final product, said Grinyer, who later formed a design firm with Ive called Tangerine. In 1992, Ive moved from projects such as designing toilets at Tangerine to Apple.

After Jobs returned to the helm of Apple in 1997, he needed the yet-to-be-released iMac to be a hit. To make sure it stood out, Jobs approved Ive's plan to use a candy-coloured translucent plastic enclosure - a major expense given the falling prices for computers at the time.

Ive and his team do their work in a lab deep within Apple's Infinite Loop campus - in a room locked off from all but the highest-ranking executives. The British native is known to travel to Asia for weeks, studying intricacies of metal-bending equipment, says former Apple designer Thomas Meyerhoffer. The result is that Apple's products have unique shapes, textures and thinness. The solid feel of products such as the iPhone is due in part to Ive's insistence on minuscule tolerances - the tiny gaps around each part and screw in a product.

Ive lacks operations, marketing and sales skills, something he said doesn't regret. "Victories from your ability to sell are very short-lived," he said. "Victories from things you've really worked hard at can have a lasting impact."

Apple announced Jobs' death without giving a specific cause. "We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today," it said.

Jobs is survived by his mother, sister, daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs, wife Laurene, and their three children.

- Bloomberg

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