Behind Apple’s products is longtime designer Ive

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Steve Jobs has been Apple’s most recognizable personality, but much of its cachet comes from its clean, inviting designs. For that, Apple can credit its head designer, Jonathan Ive.

Ive, a self-effacing 44-year-old Brit, helped Jobs bring Apple back from the brink of financial ruin with the whimsical iMac computer, whose original models came in bright colors at a time when bland shades dominated the PC world. He later helped transform Apple into a consumer electronics powerhouse and the envy of Silicon Valley with the iPod, the iPhone and, most recently, the iPad.

In the wake of Jobs‘ resignation as CEO, Apple must show that it can keep churning out head-turning products even without its charismatic leader. Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, is now CEO, taking on the role of Apple’s public face.

But in many ways the real pressure will fall on Ive to make sure Apple continues its string of gadget successes.

Ive, known to his friends as “Jony,” has led Apple’s design team since the mid-‘90s. Working closely with Jobs, Ive has built a strong legacy at Apple, ushering in products that are sleek and stylish, with rounded corners, few buttons, brushed aluminum surfaces and plenty of slick glass.

Apple’s pride in this work is evident even in the packaging: Open up any iPhone box, for example, and see Apple proudly proclaim, “Designed by Apple in California.” Six of Ive’s works, including the original iPod, are even part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

People who have worked with Ive describe him as humble and sweet, quiet and shy, but also confident, hard-working and brilliant. Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design for MoMA, said she knows “hardly anybody that is so universally loved and admired” as Ive.

“Products have to be designed better now for people to buy them because of Jony Ive and Steve Jobs and Apple,” Antonelli said. “All of a sudden people have gotten used to elegance and beauty, and there’s no going back.”

Design, as well as software that makes the gadgets easy to use, is a crucial part of setting Apple products apart from those of its rivals. Apple didn’t make the first music player or smartphone, but it blew past rivals by making ones that looked cool and worked well.

Ive started out far from Apple Inc.’s Cupertino headquarters. He grew up outside London and studied design at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University) in Newcastle, England. After finishing school, he co-founded a London-based design company called Tangerine. There, he designed a range of products including combs and power tools. It was through Tangerine that he first got to work with Apple.

In 1992, while Jobs was still in the midst of a 12-year exile from Apple, the company’s design chief at the time, Robert Brunner, hired Ive as a senior designer. Thomas Meyerhoffer, who worked under Ive at Apple in the `90s, believes Ive came because he understood Apple was different from other computer companies.

“He came to Apple to take that even further,” Meyerhoffer said.

And Ive did, but not right away. Ive quickly became a leader, working as the creative studio manager and helping to build Apple’s design team during a period in which the company struggled to innovate.

Apple declined requests for an interview with Ive. But during a 1999 interview with The Associated Press, Ive said that for years, designers would produce foam models of computers only to be sent back to their drawing boards because of managers’ fixations with focus groups and marketing figures.

“We lost our identity and looked to competition for leadership,” Ive said at the time.

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