Last month, when the rumour mill started turning with whispers of Apple's design head, Jonathan Ive, mulling a move back to the UK, it highlighted just how critical the designer is to Apple's business. Aside from Steve Jobs, he is perhaps the most important of Apple's employees. "The boy done good" originally studied at a Newcastle polytechnic, but just what is Ive like as a person? The UK's Daily Mail has a fascinating profile of the designer. Leander Kahney, from Cult of Mac, describes him as "looking like a bit of a skinhead, but actually one of the nicest, politest guys you'll ever meet and very softly spoken."
The story goes that not long after Steve Jobs rejoined the company in 1997 following the purchase of NeXT, he was touring various Apple departments when he found Ive mulling away over various designs which had never previously seen the light of day under the old management. Jobs decided that the designers should be at the core of the development of Apple's products ahead of other considerations, and should not have been shoved aside across the street from Apple's campus. The outcome was the now iconic designs of Apple's multi coloured iMac G3 and the first generation iPod in 2001. These designs were so influential that they are now in design museums.
The question remains, however, that if Apple is such a people centric business (which in and of itself is not a bad thing), could it survive without Jobs and Ive? Many of the products that have made Apple the 2nd largest company in the world would not have seen the light of day if it had not been for Ive's revolutionary designs. It would not have been a commercial reality either had it not been for Jobs putting product design at the centre of the business. The issue for Apple is that success has one major pitfall when you place the leaders of their fields at the heart of your business: What happens when these people are no longer part of it? With long term question marks over Jobs's health and, as we reported last month, rumours of Ive considering his future in the long term with the company, there are some interesting times ahead in the next few years for the company.