The man who talked Jony Ive out of quitting design

‘My son Jonathan’s at university in Newcastle and thinking about giving up his industrial design course. Maybe you could revive his interest?’

Tom Karen
Tom Karen

This, according to design legend Tom Karen, is the phone call he received in the 1980s from a silversmith acquaintance of his, with whom he had once sat on a student design competition panel.

Karen, being a thoroughly nice chap, of course agreed, and invited father and son on a tour of the Letchworth offices of Ogle, which at the time he was leading.

The result was that ‘Jonathan’ kept with his design course, and grew up to become Sir Jony Ive – Apple’s design guru and one of the most important practitioners alive today.

As Karen told the Daily Telegraph in an interview, ‘I showed them around, and the outcome was that Jonathan stuck to industrial design and made a huge success of it.’

This story illustrates not only that even the greatest designers suffer crises of confidence sometimes, but also how a kind word or moment of inspiration from an established creative can have a huge effect.

Jony Ive
Jony Ive

This is the thought which leads initiatives such as the Sorrell Foundation’s Saturday Club, which offers free art and design classes to youngsters and, crucially, the chance to meet top creatives such as Thomas Heatherwick, Anthony Gormley and Paul Priestman.

And it’s this belief too that drives projects such as the Pearson Lab at Makerversity, which aims to provide youngsters with opportunities and experiences they may not otherwise have and to prove to them that they can have careers in design and manufacturing.

Of course, not every youngster will have access to a Tom Karen (or a Jony Ive) to keep them on the right track – so the more initiatives like the Saturday Clubs or Makerversity, the more opportunities there will be for youngsters to be exposed to creative inspiration.

As a side note, we presume that when Karen was counselling Ive all those years ago, he didn’t tell him what he recently revealed to us: ‘Product design is a hard way to make money. ­ Graphics, packaging, perhaps corporate identities and interior design seem easier.’

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  • D Conran November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Nice story, not sure I agree with the:

    “…illustrates not only that even the greatest designers suffer crises of confidence sometimes..”

    As I’m sure at that time he was yet to become this, otherwise surely it wouldn’t have mattered if he had dropped out!

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