Making Jony Ive a Knight sends UK Gov signal: 2012 is the year of tech

Honours and medals from Queens and Kings may be an alien concept in Silicon Valley, but they are a delightfully steam-punk tradition, still continued in a Britain which long ago said goodbye to its Empire, yet still has Knights and ‘Commander’ orders to hand out. Thus, Apple’s chief designer, Jonathan Ive, has been knighted in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list, principally for his work in industrial design and championing British talent abroad. Ive was already made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2006. Being a Knight means he is now Sir Jonathan Ive – a moniker which should, at the very least, bump him to the front of the average restaurant queue when he’s in London.

The British Consul General in San Francisco, Priya Guha, said that Mr Ive “epitomises the strengths of British design and innovation”. In response Ive said: “I am keenly aware that I benefit from a wonderful tradition in the UK of designing and making. To be recognized with this honour is absolutely thrilling and I am both humbled and sincerely grateful.”

The former north-east Londoner is known as the mastermind behind Apple’s hardware, from the iPod the iPhone to the Macbook Air. A graduate of design at Newcastle Polytechnic he moved to California to join Apple in 1992 and led Apple’s design team since 1996. He holds 596 design and utility patents, more than Steve Jobs did, who reached 317.

But New Year’s honours are often political in nature. The Queen is not the one who draws up the initial list but the “Nominations Team of the Honours and Appointments Secretariat” – basically a mix on Number 10 and Buckingham Palace officials. The list is then heavily gone over, mainly by Number 10, the office of the Prime Minister.

New Year’s Honours are frequently used to make political points. Steve Jobs was once rumoured to be in line for a knighthood under Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but the story goes that he was refused because he wouldn’t turn up to make a speech in the UK. This sounds like Steve Jobs.

But it’s clear that 2011 was a year which the UK government trumpeted the rise of tech startups and entrepreneurs in its official “Tech City” policy and its economic stance, particular it’s recent Autumn economic statement which is poised to kick-start the Angel investment market in the UK.

So what better signal to send than to laud one of the architects of Apple’s success as a global tech powerhouse?

UPDATE: It’s worth noting that Tom Harvey, who is an investor who has funded early stage tech in England’s North East has been made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire).