The New Yorker recently published a lengthy article about Apple’s long-term head designer Jonathan Ive, the man behind the iPod, MacBook, iPhone, and now, the Apple Watch. Previously, Ive has been famously reclusive and mostly hidden from the public eye, but the New Yorker article promises to provide a rare glimpse into how ‘one of the two most powerful people in the world’s most valuable company’ works and thinks. The article describes Ive as a modest, shy, and serious man, with admirably high ambitions about his work and the material reality of the world surrounding him. Ive’s exuberant lifestyle is laid out in the open while his various possessions are described in detail, including the cream leather back seat of his Bentley Mulsanne (driven by a chauffeur whose services Ive has ‘accepted reluctantly’), his Aston Martin DB4, his twenty-seat Gulfstream GV, his nineteen-twenties mansion in Pacific Heights, and his beach house in Hawaii. In between quotes from colleagues and famous friends describing Ive as ‘an artist with an artist’s temperament’, or having ‘better taste than anyone’, the writer of the article, Ian Parker, must admit his defeat in trying to ‘challenge the consensus that Ive…is a good egg.’
It is telling that previously publicity-shy Ive has now put himself forward to give lengthy interviews to publications such as The New Yorker and American Vogue. Masked as exclusive peeks into the inner workings of Apple, these articles, in reality, are undoubtedly part of a subtle but ultimately see-through marketing strategy using the aura of mystery and success that Ive possesses to sell luxury products such as the $17,000 Apple Watch made of 18 karat gold. Presenting Ive, a modest, down-to-earth designer with a fabulously exclusive lifestyle, as the figurehead of the company has become necessary due to the gap that Steve Jobs left, but also to subdue the critical voices that have started to emerge despite the continuing success of the company. The recently launched Apple Watch has gained surprisingly negative feedback, first because of its appearance, and more recently because of the functions it performs. The rumours of Apple’s questionable methods of cheap-labour production, resulting in factory worker suicides, and use of toxic materials mined by children under dubious conditions, have gained growing publicity. Furthermore, the lack of possibilities for repairing or recycling Apple products, together with their decreasing lifespan, has caught people’s attention and spurred questions about the sustainability of the company’s actions.
It would be naïve to expect Jonathan Ive to address these issues in a New Yorker article, but the designer’s statements about the nature and importance of his own work in the service of Apple are provoking, if not appalling considering the growing doubts about the ethics of the products. When asked for examples of careless design, Ive evades the question by stating that ‘At the risk of sounding terribly sentimental, I do think one of the things that just compel us is that we have this sense that, in some way, by caring, we are actually serving humanity.’ Furthermore, Ive claims that the work he has done with his colleagues, has improved ‘the quality of life for millions and millions and millions of people.’ Statements of this kind are extremely thoughtless so long as the ‘improvement’ is produced at the cost of other people’s lives, and, at the risk of sounding dramatic, the future of our planet. If we agree that smartphones and laptops are good for us, it can’t be denied that the products that Jonathan Ive has designed make many people’s lives (including mine) more beautiful and functional, but at what price? If Apple, and Ive, truly cared about serving humanity they would surely find a way to create products whose origins, and future, withstand scrutiny. The least we can do, as consumers, and Jonathan Ive and Apple can do as the creators, is to acknowledge the truth and start working for a more ethical and sustainable reality, step by step. Apple as ‘the world’s most valuable business’, and Ive, as ‘one of the two most powerful people’ in it, should lead by example.
 Ian Parker, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ – How an industrial designer became Apple’s greatest product’, the New Yorker, February 23/March 2 2015, pp. 120-139, p. 120
 Parker, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, p. 120
 Parker, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, p. 135
 Parker, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, p. 125
 Parker, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, p. 127
 Parker, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, p. 133