Magazine article Newsweek

No More 'Beige Boxes'

Magazine article Newsweek

No More 'Beige Boxes'

Article excerpt

Apple's design guru is inspired by 'The Jetsons,' the color of the ocean off Australia-and Steve Jobs

SECRECY IS A GOOD INdication of how important something is to a company. Jonathan Ive, Apple's 31-year-old director of industrial design, will tell you that his team is hard at work on "a whole load of other stuff' now that the iMac is out. But he won't show you any of this "other stuff." Nor will he reveal the exact number of designers who work for him. Apple execs ask reporters to keep the location of the design studio-a drab low-slung building a few blocks from the main campus-confidential for fear of industrial spying. lye says he developed a "habitual paranoia" about keeping the model of the iMac covered with a large cloth at all times during the nine months of development. He wasn't even supposed to show it to his wife, Heather, until last week.

By the looks of it, industrial design is front and center at Apple again. But as recently as last summer, Ive says, he and the team were on the brink of quitting. "We were absolutely at wit's end," he says. The frustration had built up under CEOs John Sculley, Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio, for whom the studio had cranked out uninspired "beige boxes" that faltered in the marketplace. The designers made gorgeous but doomed prototypes on the side as "sanity exercises." lye, a star design pupil who had given up a hot London consulting business in 1992 to work at Apple, consoled himself by designing early Newtons and the award-winning 20th-anniversary Macintosh. But then Amelio resigned last July and, by the end of the month, Jobs was back running the company. "Suddenly, the reason we came to Apple was hack at Apple," lye says. "He didn't have to say anything to persuade us" to stay.

Now, lye and the "heavenly" team of international designers that he handpicked when he became director in 1996 are busy working only on real products instead of fruitless projects. …

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