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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Jonathan Ive: Mr iMac
By winning the prestigious Designer of the Year award for shaping products such as the iMac and the iPod, Jonathan Ive has cemented his reputation as the Armani of technology. The BBC's Caroline Frost looks at the man who turned his back on beige.

Apple designer Jonathan Ive
Ive loves the "obviousness of everything
It's a long way from a toilet laboratory in Chigwell, north London to the heart of Silicon Valley, California.

But in eight years, Jonathan Ive has covered this distance to establish himself as one of the world's most celebrated and sought after designers.

In his role as vice-president of industrial design at Apple, he has been responsible for a whirlwind of innovation, including the original iMac computer and its portable cousin, the iBook.

Mr Ive has said that he "loves the obviousness of everything". But if he makes his work sound deceptively simple, he makes the same light of his meteoric career path.

A student of art and design at Newcastle Polytechnic, he worked briefly at a London consultancy before setting up his own Tangerine design house with clients that included Apple.

The computer giants were so impressed with his work for them that in 1992 they enticed him across the world to Cupertino, Silicon Valley, to turn around their ailing design division. All this, at the ripe age of 30.

Thinking different

Mr Ive is notoriously self-effacing, but his colleagues call him a genius.

This prodigy goes to work in worn trainers and T-shirt. His 70-hour working weeks mean his pallor is untouched by the Californian sun.

iMacs in a variety of colours

But his casual appearance belies his hallowed position at the heart of corporate America, a long throw from his trendy London design house.

Something radical certainly appeared in the prodigal return of Steve Jobs to Apple's top spot.

After a few frustrating years on the West Coast, Mr Ive found himself working with a kindred spirit, a CEO for whom innovation was paramount.

The Briton experienced the trust of Mr Jobs first-hand one year into the design of the new iMac.

Leading Mr Ive around his wife's vegetable patch, the Apple boss encouraged the designer to rethink the entire concept. Between the pair of them, the final result was never going to be another beige box.

While Mr Jobs insists that "every component stays true to itself" and Mr Ive laments "an industry that measures success in the number of gigabytes, the speed of the chip", it seems the pair share an almost Zen-like approach to their work.

'Frightening talent'

This lack of corporate agenda allows Mr Ive to create more than a machine, but a creative statement.

Apple boss Steve Jobs
Ive has found a kindred spirit in the Apple boss Steve Jobs
When his first iMac appeared with its distinctive curves and translucent candy colours, it became an advertiser's dream, and made the designer into "the Versace of computers".

And despite Apple's small share of the overall market, within the creative and non-business communities, it enjoys an almost fanatical following.

Two million iMacs were sold in the first year of its distribution, transforming the fortunes of the then ailing Apple.

For Mr Ive, when he is not creating the first computer for the angle poise generation, free time is spent "living a serene life". This consists of dabbling with techno-pop, computer generated music, and relaxing with his colleagues.

His former teacher in northern England described the designer as "almost frightened by his own talent".

Mr Ive is in the fortunate position of sharing the philosophy of his employer, and being paid huge sums to do what he loves best.

He has said that "Apple really was born to innovate". He could just as easily be describing himself.

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