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The man behind the man behind Steve Jobs

Jonathan Ive in 2014. (Kimberly White/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

When Steve Jobs set about making a corporate and cultural revolution with Apple, he wasn’t alone. Designer Jonathan Ive was, in many ways, the man behind the man who reinvented computing and cellphones while upending the music industry.

“If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony,” Jobs told Walter Isaacson for his 2011 biography. “… He’s not just a designer. That’s why he works directly for me. He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me.”

Though Jobs died in 2011, Ive is still moving and shaking at Apple. He’s now been named the company’s first chief design officer, the occupant of a highly prized, newly created position.

“Design is one of the most important ways we communicate with our customers, and our reputation for world-class design differentiates Apple from every other company in the world,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in a memo reported by 9to5Mac. “As Chief Design Officer, Jony will remain responsible for all of our design, focusing entirely on current design projects, new ideas and future initiatives.”

But in this case, there is a man behind the man behind the man. And, when it came to design, Ive was guided by the products and the philosophy of a German designer: Dieter Rams. Rams’s hallmark: simplicity.

[Apple’s Jony Ive has a beautiful design philosophy. But sometimes he gets carried away.]

“In Ive, Jobs met his soul mate in the quest for true rather than surface simplicity,” Isaacson explained. “Sitting in his design studio, Ive described his philosophy: ‘Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them.'”

Rams, famous for his work for the German company Braun, was an acolyte of clean lines, modernism and minimalism. His much-fussed-over products look totally unfussy. And his decades-old portable stereo, for example, looks like an iPod.

“In my experience, users react very positively when things are clear and understandable,” he said in a 2009 documentary. “That’s what particularly bothers me today about the arbitrariness and thoughtlessness with which many things are produced and brought to market.”

“You just want to hold it and have it,” lighting and product designer Bec Brittain said of the stereo. “I also very much respond to the way he did the speaker and that pattern of dots; that’s a very thought-through thing. You can just tell he made really deliberate decisions the whole way though.”

Rams, now 83, was so deliberate that he had a manifesto. Here are his “Ten Principles of ‘Good Design'” as put forth by SF Moma:

Good design is innovative — The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology and can never be an end in itself.
Good design makes a product useful — A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
Good design is aesthetic — The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
Good design makes a product understandable — It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
Good design is unobtrusive — Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
Good design is honest — It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept
Good design is long-lasting — It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail — Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect toward the consumer.
Good design is environmentally friendly — Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the life cycle of the product.
Good design is as little design as possible — Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

“I summarized my philosophy in 10 points, and I’m actually very surprised that people today, especially students, still accept them,” Rams told Fast Company in March. “I didn’t intend these 10 points to be set in stone forever. They were actually meant to mutate with time and to change. But apparently things have not changed greatly in the past 50 years. So even nowadays, they are still accepted.”

Rams had, more or less, created the Apple playbook.

“Ive was a fan of the German industrial designer Dieter Rams, who worked for the electronics firm Braun,” Isaacson reported. “Rams preached the gospel of ‘Less but better,’ Weniger aber besser, and likewise Jobs and Ive wrestled with each new design to see how much they could simplify it.”

Ive has called Rams’s designs “bold, pure, perfectly proportioned, coherent and effortless.” Rams’s creations seem almost inevitable. “At a glance, you knew exactly what it was and exactly how to use it,” Ive said.

The admiration was mutual.

“Today you find only a few companies that take design seriously, as I see it,” Rams said in 2009. “And at the moment that is an American company. It is Apple.”

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