Dear Jony Ive: Some Advice for Your New Life as a Contractor

Dear Jony:

No, wait, that’s way too informal for someone once knighted by the Queen. It’s Sir Ive, no? Let’s just go with that, before your judgmental stare burns a hole clean through us.

Dear Sir Ive:

After 27 years at Apple, you’ve decided to leave to start your own firm. Since you spearheaded the design of some of the world’s most iconic tech products—including the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and Apple Watch—we can only assume that your per-hour rate is going to be insane, no? As in, if a furniture firm wants you to design their latest armchair, they’re going to pay you the equivalent of the GDP of a small island nation.

For all we know, you’ll demand payment in small island nations, which will efficiently weed out all but the largest clients. We know that Apple is going to rely heavily on your new firm, no doubt commissioning future generations of Watches and iPhones and maybe even an AR headset, and with their spare cash, they could buy you Barbados and Cuba.

Of course, all that won’t stop some naïve PR rep for a local coffee chain from Googling designers, seeing your new firm’s website (you’re doing a website, right?), not making the connection between “Jony Ive” and “iPhone,” and emailing the general-inquiries address to ask if you’d be willing to design a new logo in exchange for a gift card and “the exposure.”

Just ignore those offers. You’re intensely aware that the only suitable payment for good work is cold, hard cash—after all, an all-options iPhone XS with 512GB of storage can run a cool $1449. But fantastic design is truly priceless, as we all know.

If you’re at a loss over how to choose the right clients, just follow this advice:

Search Out Those Who Value Wisdom and Experience

Clients should solicit your opinions instead of trying to dictate what they want. Ideally, they’ll try to make you feel like you’re part of the team, and ask what resources you’ll need to succeed. Of course, because you’re Jony frickin’ Ive, you likely won’t choose clients who refuse to hear what you have to say.

Clients Should Have Clear Goals

Clients should know what they want. If they drag you into a meeting and say something like, “Well, uh, Jony, no, sorry, Sir Jony, no, um, Sir Ive, we want to take our product, which brews coffee, but also make it a Siri-enabled speaker, and maybe we’ll want some ports or open space so we can slot things in later,” they clearly don’t know what they want. Steer clear.

And if they pronounce “aluminum” wrong (“It’s al-um-in-ium, you uncultured savages!”), then you have permission to burn their office down. Nobody will blame you, because you’re Jony Ive.

They Should Give You Autonomy

For most tech contractors, autonomy is a serious problem. We suspect you’ll have no issues with this, though.

Prompt Payment

We’re just guessing here, but we suspect money isn’t the primary motivator behind you setting out your shingle as an independent designer/contractor. Nonetheless, most contractors and designers charge some kind of retainer fee up front, and try to bake a schedule of payments into their contracts. That spares them from money-related headaches later.

If your primary client is Apple, they’re good for whatever you decide to charge. Trust us on that one. Keep repeating: My client can buy me an island.

According to the Dice Salary Survey, the average salary for independent contractors was $94,011 last year, so whatever you charge, you’re probably well ahead of the game. Good luck out there, Sir Ive!