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David Zax

A View from David Zax

That's Sir Jonathan Ive, To You

Jony Ive, Apple’s design guru, attains knighthood.

  • January 3, 2012

Want to stick a “Sir” in front of your name (legitimately)? Then you might want to start designing sexy gadgets.

Jonathan Ive–sorry, Sir Jonathan Ive–has been made a Knight Commander of the British Empire. The dashing knight, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, has equipped so many of us with our modern shining armor: the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and so on. He had reached the rank of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2005, but earned the promotion this year for “services to design and enterprise.”

Ive told the BBC the honor was “absolutely thrilling” and that he was “keenly aware that I benefit from a wonderful tradition in the UK of designing and making.” His father was a silversmith, which may be where his love of “making stuff” originated; Ive later attended Newcastle Polytechnic, which is now known as Northumbria University. He and a few friends founded a design agency, Tangerine, which went on to have Apple as a client. When Cupertino was floored by a prototype notebook Ive turned in, they hired him.

The recent outpouring of Steve Jobs tributes has at times cast reflected light on Ive, whom Jobs called a “spiritual partner.” Arguably one of Jobs’s greatest moments at Apple was simply discovering and promoting the talent of Ive. But in all the focus on Jobs, his legacy and his meaning, Ive necessarily emerged this past year as something of a supporting character.

He’s more than that. “Apple Is a Design Company With Engineers,” John Gruber has semi-famously said, and he may just be right. An Apple without Ive would likely have been as lost, perhaps more so, than an Apple without Jobs. Ive has been called “a reluctant celebrity”; then again, Isaacson’s biography of Jobs claimed that Ive was sometimes hurt by Jobs taking credit for some of Apple’s newest products. The new honor should increase that ambivalence. (We at TR have had our eye on him for over a decade; in 1999, we named him one of our top 100 innovators under 35.)

Watching Ive muse on his work is always fascinating, and YouTube has a few gems.

He seems to embody his philosophy of simplicity at the very level of his hairstyle and shirt choice.

Here is a particularly vintage one, dating from the twentieth anniversary of the Macintosh; it dates back to when Ive (apart from having more hair) went as “Jon” instead of his now-preferred “Jony,” it appears.

For a few more details about the sometimes-elusive Ive (including tidbits like the rumored starting salary of anyone on his design team), BusinessWeek’s 2006 profile is a good place to start.

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