Why Jony Ive is leaving Apple

Jony Ive
Jony Ive (Image credit: Apple)

Wow, I mean. On one hand, I'm devastated. As someone who started out in the business as a designer, Jony Ive and his relationship with Apple was just everything I looked up to and aspired to be.

On the other hand, though, as someone no longer in design, Jony Ive set free but still connected to Apple is something I really, deeply feel.

Cupertino, California — Apple today announced that Sir Jony Ive, Apple's chief design officer, will depart the company as an employee later this year to form an independent design company which will count Apple among its primary clients. While he pursues personal projects, Ive in his new company will continue to work closely and on a range of projects with Apple.

But, sorry, first. I wasn't going to do this write anything else today. I was going to wait and think on it a bit, and do a deeper, more forward-looking column tomorrow. But then, you guessed it, the Internet happened.

Hot takes began raining down like meteors in a Michael Bay movie. And, as expected a lot of them were just terrible. Like terrible set in comic sans terrible. That why, I ultimately decided to split my coverage in two. To get something short out today and the focus on something deeper for tomorrow.

Exit Jony

"Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple's revival cannot be overstated, from 1998's groundbreaking iMac to the iPhone and the unprecedented ambition of Apple Park, where recently he has been putting so much of his energy and care,"

That's according to Tim Cook, Apple's CEO.

"Apple will continue to benefit from Jony's talents by working directly with him on exclusive projects, and through the ongoing work of the brilliant and passionate design team he has built. After so many years working closely together, I'm happy that our relationship continues to evolve and I look forward to working with Jony long into the future."

OK. So what does all this mean?

First, Jony has literally been at Apple since the second coming of Steve Jobs. When it comes to personal computing, he's been there, designed that. He's won more awards and been on more patents than entire companies. Combined.

He's a big part of the reason almost all phones are now singular slabs, why every laptop for a long time was as wedged as air, and why it was so hard for so long to tell any other tablet apart from the iPad. He was the design lead not just for Apple but for the industry.

But he's also a designer. A passionate, beyond talented designer, who outside of a few projects for Product Red, hasn't been able to design much else in two decades. Not a set of chairs or a desk, not a bicycle or a personal jet plane, not a set of knives or grandfather clock.

He's designed the best selling products in the history of best selling products, but that's all he's been able to design. That is, aside from his recent flirtation with Apple Park and Apple Retail.

Why would Jony leave Apple only for his new design company, LoveFrom, to be hired by Apple before it even officially launches sometime next year?

Probably because it's win/win for everyone involved.

First, Apple's no stranger to working with outside design companies. Prior to the age of Ive, Frog Design helped make Apple's products iconic. Apple's also worked with outside ad agencies in the past, with whom they created some of the most memorable ads of all time.

Jony is the reason they haven't been doing it… since Jony. And now that they might start doing it again, either in name only or as a real collaboration, time will tell, it'll be with — you guessed it — Jony. And with Marc Newson, who's joining Jony at LoveFrom, after spending the last few years with him at Apple, not only shaping products in his own right, but as a kindred spirit in a way no one else could since the passing of Steve Jobs.

Second, Jony not only knows everything Apple has done up until now, he knows everything the company is currently working on for the future. His team has been pushing out designs not just for the next generation of products like glasses and cars, but prototyping and brainstorming generations after that.

Having some extra insurance wrapped up around that is in everyone's benefit. Especially because, third, it pre-empts a ton of silly, speculative headlines around what if Google or Samsung or Huawei or whatever competition hired LoveFrom and Jony.

Fourth, it keeps Jony in the Apple family, even if he's moved out and gotten his own space, and that doesn't just cut down on the neighborhood drama, it keeps up the feels in the family.

Enter Evans, Alan, and Jeff

Design team leaders Evans Hankey, vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, vice president of Human Interface Design, will report to Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer. Both Dye and Hankey have played key leadership roles on Apple's design team for many years. Williams has led the development of Apple Watch since its inception and will spend more of his time working with the design team in their studio.

She's not very well known outside Apple at all, but by every account I've heard so far, Evans is beyond solid. She's been effectively running Industrial Design for years, since almost after Jony left day-to-day management there to focus on Apple Park and Apple Retail, and she deserves a ton of credit for a lot of what the team has done over the last few years.

And, yeah, feel free to transform that into blame if you're super salty and spicy about the butterfly keyboard, but it takes a company to let that ship, and I can get into that in a follow up video if you want me to, let me know in the comments, but it's probably fairer to judge her by the next keyboard than this one. Just like the next AirPods and, you know, next design generation of iPhones.

Having her and Alan Dye, who's effectively been running HI since iOS 7, report into Jeff Williams is going to be a head scratcher for a lot of people.

It's a bold choice but I'm not sure it's a bad one. Neither Evans nor Alan are being promoted at this point, and having them go back to reporting into Tim Cook, like they did when Jony was off working on Apple Park, would have felt to me more like Apple had no other idea what to do with them.

Jeff, by contrast, has been running Apple Health and Apple Watch for years. And not just the way Dan Riccio runs some special projects groups or Eddy Cue runs Apple TV. Jeff is incredibly detail oriented and has a real passion for design.

Part of the reason Sabih Khan was promoted to Senior Vice President of Operations was so that Jeff could spend more time focusing on product, including design.

Also, Apple doesn't just mint senior Vice Presidents, let alone C-level execs.

Even two of the most important hires in the history of the company, Jony Srouji who runs silicon and John Gianandrea who runs machine learning took some time to get their SVP power-ups.

If Apple is considering anyone for Senior Vice President of Design, I wouldn't expect to hear about it until after some time passes a big new product or version launches.

LoveFrom, WithLove

"After nearly 30 years and countless projects, I am most proud of the lasting work we have done to create a design team, process and culture at Apple that is without peer. Today it is stronger, more vibrant and more talented than at any point in Apple's history."

That's according to Jony.

"The team will certainly thrive under the excellent leadership of Evans, Alan and Jeff, who have been among my closest collaborators. I have the utmost confidence in my designer colleagues at Apple, who remain my closest friends, and I look forward to working with them for many years to come."

There's a crucial point there. Apple is absolutely the sum of their people, from Steve Jobs to Jony Ive to Tim Cook, and all the way through. But, everyone will leave eventually. There is a future where none of the current leadership, where maybe none of the current people, will be there anymore. For Apple to last — to truly last — it has to have a soul beyond any single person.

The most important product everyone works on every day isn't the Apple Watch or iPad or Mac or even the iPhone. It's Apple. It's making Apple into something that can not just survive but thrive even after any of them.

Now, you're going to see a lot of people claim Jony checked out of Apple after Steve Jobs passed. Or shortly before he took on the very different challenges of Apple Park and Apple Retail.

And, for some people, even at Apple, both those things are true. For others, for the ones still working with and presenting to Jony on a regular basis, it's going to sound beyond ridiculous.

But the internet, like people, isn't good with multiple truths.

People aren't as simplistic as catchy headlines and hot-takes make us want to imagine. And situations seldom as extreme. We're complicated. We're contextual. And so are our passions and relationships.

Jony led the teams that designed everything at Apple. Then the teams that designed the places to put all those teams and all those things.

He looked upon the breadth of his product portfolio and had no worlds left to conquer. Imagine how that must feel to one of the greatest industrial designers in history. And then imagine what doing something like LoveFrom must feel like, with one of your best mates, and a deal that lets you still create with Apple but also create beyond Apple. Create anything. Whole new worlds. Whole new challenges and potentials.

Product Red electric bikes. Bead blasted aluminium hot tubs. Yo Siri, bubbles. Whatever he wants, can dream up, and will into production.

Ok. It's going to take me a while to really process this. Not only what it'll mean for Apple going forward in the post Jony Ive as chief creative offer age, but what it will mean for Jony Ive and LoveFrom, and what we'll see from both in the not so distant future.

So, for now, I want to thank Jony Ive for everything he's contributed over the course of his career at Apple, one of the most impactful careers in the history of design and consumer products, and I want to wish both Apple's Industrial Design Team and Jony and LoveFrom the absolute best going forward.

Design only exists in the moment of its successful application. And that's the only way to judge Apple and Jony Ive's work going forward. Based on what they ship.

At least that's what I think. Now, I'd love to know what you think. So hit up the comments and let me know.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.