Apple design guru Sir Jony Ive at Union for Hawking Fellowship
Cambridge’s world-famous chamber hears of “life at the curious intersection of art and technology”
Apple’s chief design officer Sir Jonathan Ive spoke at the Cambridge Union on Monday evening after becoming the second recipient of the Professor Hawking Fellowship – and the first following the death of the world-renowned physicist.
The Professor Hawking Fellowship was created in partnership with Prof Stephen Hawking and was designed to reflect his contribution in a number of ways, particularly to academia and the awareness of disability rights.
Prof Hawking, who died in March at the age of 76, delivered the Inaugural Fellowship Lecture in November last year.
Sadly that was to be one of his last public appearances, which led an added poignancy to the occasion, even as he was at the world-famous debating chamber visually this week, via a video in which he reminded his home base of his famous diktat: “Be fearless and, however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”
At the start of his talk at the Union, Sir Jony spoke of the “surprise, sense of honour and deep gratitude” that he had been selected for the Fellowship.
Talking of his time at Apple – he has designed the iPod, iPhone, iPad and iWatch – he said that being “curious, inquisitive and open” had allowed him to express the technology pioneered by the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs in ground-breaking design terms.
Sir Jony, who delivered what Apple PR strategist Anita Borzyszkowska described as a “reflective” talk, said that he was able to develop new ideas such as the multi-touch screen thanks to a receptive mindset at Apple.
“As Professor Hawking said: ‘Be curious and don’t give up’ and that’s it,” Sir Jony told a packed house. “The process is characterised by frustration and struggle.”
Sir Jony was born in London in 1967 and went to work for Apple in 1992 “to be at the curious intersection of art and technology”. But it was only in 1997, when his “friend and collaborator” Steve Jobs returned to the company he had founded, that he was given a freer role to create inspirational and ground-breaking products. He was inspired to great things when he first encountered the Apple iMac.
“For the first time, I remember being moved by obvious humanity and care beyond just the functional imperative,” he said.
Describing his success, Sir Jony said it helped to “better understand the nature of ideas”.
“Almost by definition ideas are fragile,” he said. “If they’re not ideas they are robust, for instance a completed building.
“So I’ve taken delight when ideas, often from a tentative voice, become significant and substantial products.”
“Problems are known, quantifiable and understood but ideas are partial, tentative and unproven, so it can become challenginig to maintain the momentum to continue.
“Despite doing this for a long time – nearly 30 years – I have remained completely in awe, completely enchanted, with the creative process.
“I love the fact that on Monday there is nothing but on Wednesday there is something, no matter how partial or tentative – the problem is, which Wednesday,” he said, to laughter.
“I’m surprised how hard I often need to work to remain open and curious. A place to discover and explore is far more valuable than a place of being right.”