Designing Men

28 October 2013Design

Paul Goldberger, writing for Vanity Fair, profiles Jony Ive, Marc Newson, and the pair’s collaboration on an upcoming Product (RED) auction:

Agreeing to do the auction for Bono was one thing; pulling it together was another. “Jony and I struggled for a while,” Newson said, since, while they liked Bono and they liked the idea of working together, at first they had absolutely no idea of what they wanted to do or how to go about it. They knew that they didn’t want to assemble a collection of classic modern-design objects of the sort you would find in a museum. There had to be an element of surprise, some odd juxtapositions, and plenty of things that no one would have expected two famous designers to choose. And there had to be at least some likelihood that the vast majority of the objects would sell at high prices. Unlike art, Newson said, “design is not inherently valuable. How would we generate revenue?” In the end, he said, “we decided just to put together things that we love.”

That turned out to be easier said than done. The process took more than a year and a half, in part because Ive and Newson spent months thinking about what they wanted to include, more months tracking down obscure objects, and more months contacting manufacturers and visiting their factories in the hope of persuading them to allow the designers to create a one-off variation on a classic product. And then there was the time it took to have the special versions made. You can’t hurry the making of a Steinway piano, or an Hermès saddle (there is a red leather saddle in the auction), or a Castiglioni Arco lamp, its huge metal arc leaping out of a red marble base instead of the usual white.

It’s impressive how these two men found time in their hectic schedules to devote so much time to this project. As an example, consider the care and detail that went into designing a one-of-a-kind Leica digital camera for the auction:

“I found it a very odd and unusual thing to put this amount of love and energy into one thing, where you are only going to make one,” Ive said. “But isn’t it beautiful?” The camera’s dollar worth is hard to estimate, since it is an art piece as much as a functioning object, but the value of the time Ive, Newson, and Leica’s own engineers put into it probably totals well into six figures, and possibly seven. The process of designing and making the camera took more than nine months, and involved 947 different prototype parts and 561 different models before the design was completed. According to Apple, 55 engineers assisted at some part in the process, spending a collective total of 2,149 hours on the project.

If you don’t have time to read the full article, take a quick look at some of the items that are going up for auction. And take a look at the great portrait of the two designers, shot by Annie Leibovitz.