Jony Ive and Marc Newson Discuss Design, Obsession With Perfection in New Interview

Apple's senior vice president of design Jonathan Ive and industrial designer Marc Newson have collaborated on more than 40 objects, such as the one-of-a-kind Leica Rangefinder camera and the solid gold Apple EarPods, that will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York later this year to benefit Product (RED), Bono's charity that has a long running partnership with Apple.

The duo interviewed with Vanity Fair to talk about the collaborative design process and the exceptional amount of work that went into many of the products that will be up for auction.

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Despite differences in aesthetic taste, Ive and Newson work well together due to an uncompromising obsession with detail and a shared belief that design involves more than surface appearance, a point that Jony Ive has spoken about in prior interviews.

"We are both fanatical in terms of care and attention to things people don't see immediately," Ive said. "It's like finishing the back of a drawer. Nobody's going to see it, but you do it anyway. Products are a form of communication—they demonstrate your value system, what you care about."

"You discover that very few people have the level of perfection we do. It is actually very sick," Newson said. "It is neurotic."

Later, waving his hand around the Claridge's suite, Ive said, “All of us in this room see the same things, the same objects, but Marc and I see what's behind them."

Coming up with a theme and deciding what to produce took the two men more than a year and a half, with months spent contemplating what to include, tracking down rare objects, and contacting manufacturers and factories. An extensive amount of time went into each object, especially the two handmade items – a desk and the Leica camera.

"I found it a very odd and unusual thing to put this amount of love and energy into one thing, where you are only going to make one,” Ive said. “But isn't it beautiful?" The camera's dollar worth is hard to estimate, since it is an art piece as much as a functioning object, but the value of the time Ive, Newson, and Leica's own engineers put into it probably totals well into six figures, and possibly seven.

The camera that Ive designed involved 947 prototype parts and 561 models. 55 Apple engineers assisted in the process, spending a collective 2,149 hours. Final assembly of the finished camera took 50 hours and more than six days.

During the interview, Ive also had a few words to say about the care and the precision involved in designing the iPhone, a set of qualities that distinguish Apple and its products from other smartphone manufacturers.

"The most important thing is that you actually care, that you do something to the very best of your ability," Ive told me. "We can't explain it in a fiscal sense, but the care that goes into the iPhone is equivalent to what goes into watches and other things that are significantly more expensive. I love the idea that the phone will be so broadly accessible."

The full Vanity Fair article, which includes further tidbits on the design histories of both Ive and Newson along with detailed information on several other products that will be up for auction, is well worth a read. The Sotheby's auction for Product (RED) will take place on November 23.

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Top Rated Comments

macUser2007 Avatar
139 months ago
"All of us in this room see the same things, the same objects, but Marc and I see what's behind them."

Wow!

Methinks that Ive is starting to believe the legend of Ive, which is never a good thing.

He is obviously a good designer, but really...?
Score: 48 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Woyzeck Avatar
139 months ago
Thank you for that. This case makes it obvious that he's prefering form over function.

Ive's M9 has removed the unique and tangible camera controls from the camara's top that are important for the photographer and replaced them with uniform buttons (all images (c) by Leica):



While you could easily find and control the original M9's shutter speed without looking at the camera Ive's improvement removed the haptic feedback with flat wheels.

Then he removed the flash hotshoe, presumably because it destroyed the slick looks. And heck, who needs an external flash when taking pictures (remember the DVD drive in the iMac) ?

The situation on the back is similiar:



Leica's design has a four-wheel control with elevated buttons that provide haptic feedback, while Ive's version has a less-usable flat wheel. Furthermore the more important menu button is well-placed on the top-right corner of the display. Ive hides this button somewhere within 5 other buttons (again, they're flat). So in order to open the menu you will have to look at the camera's back.
Furthermore he removed the ocular's hood that reduces sun reflexions. But ok, it's more flat now.

Then he removed the zoom wheel from the bottom right place (where you usually have your thumb when taking a picture because the trigger finger is - well at the trigger) and replaced them with two flat buttons (again, no haptic feedback). It's clear that controlling the zoom with a wheel is much better than by pressing two buttons (faster, more precise, easier to find, more convenient).

So what we have here is the iMac of photography. It's less usable but slick.
(I'd like to see if he changed the menus and the other UI components to plain text as well ;-))
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
pickaxe Avatar
139 months ago
The person who delegated the iOS 7 icons to the print and web design department talks about perfectionism :rolleyes:
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Jon the Heretic Avatar
139 months ago
iOS 7

I lost a lot of respect for Jony after he took over and released iOS7. There are lots of types of designers and users, and iOS7 was designed for and by visual designers infatuated with the latest design fad. As an interaction designer, I find it much less usable (new features aside) than what it replaced. As a user, I simply hate the look.

I know people will get sick of hearing this, but the more I use iOS7, the more convinced I am of its truth: this would have never gotten past Steve Jobs. He had taste.

Go back to designing cases and boxes, Jony--that's something you are really good at.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Pyrrhic Victory Avatar
139 months ago
This is the ugliest camera I've ever seen since the digital age. Ive really needs to go. It's 100% his fault that Apple kicked out Forstall and Ive's pathetic attempt at a new OS design was an unmitigated disaster. He couldn't be more wrong about skeuomorphism if he tried. Apple really needs to bring back Forstall to clean up Ive's mess or good.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
musika Avatar
139 months ago
I still don't think it looks too great, especially compared to other Leicas. But hey, that could just be me.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)