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Jony Ive Talks Switching Between Creative Curiosity and Problem-Solving During Design Process

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Apple design chief Jony Ive recently delivered a lecture in which he touched on the importance and “absurdity” of switching between creative curiosity and problem-solving.

The Independent

Ive won the Cambridge Union Society’s prestigious Stephen Hawking Fellowship award earlier this year, and as part of the process, he gave a lecture to a number of students and faculty at Cambridge University’s Union Hall. During the lecture Ive touched on a number of subjects, including the motivation of a designer, becoming tech-savvy, and the creative process.

Ive speaks on the motivating factors that drive a designer:

We designers create tools, tools that you can live in, sit on, eat with, tools that enable communication and support learning, creating and mending. Our tools can be powerful, they can be beautiful, and on many occasions, they’re not motivated by understood or articulated needs.

The designer spoke about his concerns of being technologically inept in his earlier days, but that all went away when he first used a Mac in 1988:

With the Mac, in 1988, I think I learned two things. Firstly, I could actually use it. I loved using it and it became a very powerful tool that helped me design and create. Secondly, and I think this is in some ways a rather embarrassing admission because this was at the end of four years of studying design, I realised that what you make represents who you are.

It stands testament to your values and your preoccupations and using the Mac I sensed a clear and direct connection with the people who actually created the Macintosh. For the first time, I remember being moved by obvious humanity and care beyond just the functional imperative.

Mr. Ive believes that creativity starts with a fragile idea, which can eventually turn into a “significant and substantial” product:

I think that, almost by definition, ideas are fragile. If they were resolved, if they were robust, they wouldn’t be ideas anymore, they would be shipping products, a finished album, a completed building. I’m not really entirely sure why, but I think I’ve always taken an enormous delight when the most tentative thought, often from the quietest voice, evolves into significant and substantial products.

Jony Ive remains motivated in the creative process at Apple:

I remain completely in awe, completely enchanted by the creative process. I love the unpredicability and the surprise. The whole process is fabulously terrifying and so uncertain. But I love that on Monday, there’s nothing. There is no idea, there is no conversation, the room is silent, there’s certainly not a drawing. Prototypes are way in the future. On Monday, there is nothing, but on Wednesday, there is. No matter how partial, how tentative. Now, the problem is: which Wednesday?

Ive regresses a bit to speak on the creative process and the important difference between creative curiosity in the design process and problem-solving:

There is a fundamental conflict between two very different ways of thinking. It is the conflict between curiosity and the resolve and focus that is necessary to solve problems. Curiosity, while it fuels and motivates, despite being utterly fundamental to the generation of ideas, in isolation just culminates in lots of long lists, perhaps some ideas, but alone that’s sort of where it ends.

According to Ive, it’s important to use both perspectives in the design process, and that switching back and forth between the two sometimes leans towards “the utterly absurd”:

The necessary resolve to find solutions to the problems that stand between a tentative thought and something substantial, that resolve and that focus very often seems in direct conflict with most creative behaviour. Honestly, I can’t think of two ways of working, two different ways of being, that are more polar. On one hand to be constantly questioning, loving surprises, consumed with curiosity and yet on the other hand having to be utterly driven and completely focused to solve apparently insurmountable problems, even if those solutions are without precedent or reference. And so, of course, this is where it becomes sort of ironic and teeters towards the utterly absurd.

Ive believes that in order to become a successful and motivated designer, one has to switch back and forth constantly between these perspectives, something that he admits he does on a daily basis:

You see, in the mode of being unreasonable and resolute, you have to solve hard problems. But solving those problems requires new ideas. And so, we’re back to needing ideas and back to having to be open and curious. This is not a shift that occurs once or twice in a multi-year project. I find it happens to me once or twice a day and that frequency of shifting between two such different ways of seeing and thinking is fantastically demanding.

Read the entire Jony Ive interview over at The Independent; it’s worth the read.

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