THE BIG INTERVIEW: From Sir, with love
Just one person gives Jonathan Ive a second glance as we walk through the Apple store in London's Covent Garden, and that's a member of staff. The customers are oblivious to the presence of the man responsible for the design of the computers, iPads, iPhones and iPods that they are admiring, tapping and caressing throughout the shop.
Ive, a softly spoken, thoughtful Brit, has worked at Apple in California since 1992, and since 1998 has been in charge of its designs. This may well make him the most influential designer in the world.
In creating the iPod he profoundly altered the music industry, while the iPhone is doing the same to the mobile phone industry. The most recent product from his team, the iPad, is setting the standard for an entirely new category of computer.
His incredible run of success has made him revered in the design community and helped him to amass a fortune in excess of £80- million. This week, he received a knighthood in his country of birth.
"All I've ever wanted to do is design and make; it's what I love doing. It's great if you can find what you love to do. Finding it is one thing but then to be able to practise that and be preoccupied with that is another," he says.
Ive, born in 1967, says his father, a teacher, was a significant influence on his decision to pursue design.
"My father was a very good craftsman. He made furniture, he made silverware and he had an incredible gift in terms of how you can make something yourself."
Ive talks about Apple's attention to detail in its products - details that often won't be seen by consumers at all - as a desire to "finish the back of the drawer".
"We do it because we think it's right," he says.
It was at university that Ive first encountered an Apple Mac. Having considered himself technically inept, he was amazed to find a computer he could use.
"I realised that it wasn't me at all. The computers I had been expected to use were absolutely dreadful."
That experience made Ive curious about Apple and the people behind it. Later, at Tangerine, the design agency he co-founded, he worked for Apple as a consultant. Twenty years ago, he moved to California to join the company full time.
Ive's design studio, on Apple's Cupertino campus - a short drive from the San Francisco home where he lives with his British wife and two children - is shrouded in secrecy. Only select employees are allowed inside the office, which has tinted windows.
The sight of the shaven-headed, muscular designer might lead you to expect a brusque, tough character. But Ive appears to be quite a gentle person. There are long pauses after each of my questions as he considers his answer. When he talks about his work with Apple, he almost always talks about "we" rather than "I". Certain words come up time and again, particularly "simplicity" and "focus".
"We try to develop products that seem somehow inevitable. That leave you with the sense that that's the only possible solution that makes sense.
"Our products are tools and we don't want design to get in the way. We're trying to bring simplicity and clarity. I think subconsciously people are remarkably discerning. I think that they can sense care."
Care is a principle Ive traces back to the industrial revolution: "One of the concerns was that there would somehow be, inherent with mass production and industrialisation, a godlessness and a lack of care.
"But I think you can make a one-off and not care and you can make a million of something and care. Whether you really care or not is not driven by how many of the products you're going to make. We're keenly aware that when we develop and make something and bring it to market that it really does speak to a set of values.
"What our products will not speak to is a schedule, what our products will not speak to is trying to respond to some corporate or competitive agenda. We're very genuinely designing the best products that we can for people."
In black and white, those sentiments sound idealistic, the kind of thing about which it is easy to be cynical. Like every other electronics manufacturer, Apple has faced questions over the working conditions in the Far East factories where its products are assembled.
Apple has tried to show it cares for its workers just as it cares for its customers. Detailed audits have, Apple says, led to improved standards in factories it uses, and the company argues that it monitors its suppliers more openly and more thoroughly than the competition.
Ive and his team don't just design the products; their ideas are often so new that they have to design the entire production process that the factories will use to make them.
Ive has achieved an awful lot and still has a long career ahead of him. Even so, a knighthood, which he received from Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday, is a good time to take stock. If he were to be remembered for just one of his Apple designs, I ask, which one would he pick?
There is the long pause.
"It's a really tough one. A lot does seem to come back to the fact that what we're working on now feels like the most important and the best work we've done, and so it would be what we're working on right now, which of course I can't tell you about."
I ask what would have happened if the queen had asked about the new iPhone. Would he have said : "I'm sorry Your Majesty, we don't comment on forthcoming products"?
"That would [have been] funny," he laughs. But I notice he doesn't say no.