Giving form to the future: Iconic designer Ive and OpenAI’s Altman tap Tang Tan for new AI products

Jony Ive stands next to Tim Cook and points at an iPhone at an Apple event.
(Image credit: Apple)

It’s hard enough to look for an excellent product designer in an industry that’s been around for decades—say a creative who makes designs for a car or a coffee maker. But where do you go when you’re looking for a product designer to help you in an industry that, in many ways, is just in the process of forming, the way artificial intelligence is at the moment? 

Where do you go when the entire industry—from the hardware to the software to even how to legally use AI—is all very much in flux? Whom do you hire? 

For iconic designer and former Apple design leader, Jony Ive, you hire those who were part of your greatest successes. It's most likely why Ive, along with OpenAI's Sam Altman, have asked Tang Tan, Apple's chief product designer, to join them to "work on a new artificial intelligence hardware project, aiming to create devices with the latest capabilities," according to a story in Bloomberg, earlier this week. Ive has also asked Tan to join his design firm, LoveFrom, where Tan will lead the hardware engineering team on the project.

John Ive, who worked at Apple as senior vice president of industrial design for 22 years and left in 2019, was a crucial figure behind many of Apple's most impressive and important product designs, including the introduction of the iMac in 1998, but also the iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and Apple Watch, among others. 

Can Apple afford to lose more iconic designers?

Tan's exit has been seen by many in the tech world as a continuation of the "brain drain" that Apple has been dealing with since Ive's departure in 2019.

In years past, Apple was able to retain the talent of its designers, alongside investing in budding creatives, which allowed it to get better-designed technology. But more recently, Apple has lost quite a number of important executives and design leaders. For example, there was news recently that Steve Hotelling, an influential executive and inventor at Apple, had decided to retire. 

But according to the Bloomberg story, there have been quite a few other designers and executives that have left recently, including Evans Hankey, Patrick Coffman, Colin Burns, and Shota Aoyagi. The story also said that “more than 20 former Apple employees have joined” Ive’s LoveFrom, including Aoyagi.

Of course, few current Apple executives will discuss the existence of “brain drain.” In another recent story, this one from CNBC, reporter Katie Tarasov asked Johny Srouji, senior vice president of hardware technologies for Apple, about Gerard Williams and Apple’s lawsuit against him, which the company dropped earlier this year, as well as the existence of "brain drain." Srouji said he couldn’t speak about legal issues, but did say that, “...we truly care about IP protection. When certain people leave for certain reasons, that's their choice. That's fine. And again, as I mentioned, we have thousands of engineers and we have a deep bench of talent."

So, although Srouji and other Apple executives may avoid acknowledging "brain drain," it'll be interesting to see if that deep bench of talent can effectively step into those vacant product design leadership roles in 2024 and produce products with the same level of ingenuity, quality, and popularity. 

Terry Sullivan


Terry Sullivan has tested and reported on many different types of consumer electronics and technology services, including cameras, action cams, mobile devices, streaming music services, wireless speakers, headphones, smart-home devices, and mobile apps. He has also written extensively on various trends in the worlds of technology, multimedia, and the arts. For more than 10 years, his articles and blog posts have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including The New York Times, Consumer Reports, PCMag, Worth magazine, Popular Science, Tom’s Guide, and Artnews. He is also a musician, photographer, artist, and teacher.