Apple isn't doomed without Jony Ive — here's why the departure of the design legend is actually a good thing

Getty Images/Michael Kovac

On Thursday, Apple announced that Jony Ive, its longtime chief designer, was finally going to leave the company and start his own business.

I say “finally” because the writing has been on the wall for some time now.

In 2016, Business Insider published a story entitled: “Speculation is mounting that Jony Ive has checked out at Apple.” That was three years ago.

The year prior, Ive had been profiled by The New Yorker, which painted the British designer as someone who was “deeply tired.” This section from the profile is key (emphasis ours):

“His manner suggests the burden of being fully appreciated.There were times, during the past two decades, when he considered leaving Apple, but he stayed, becoming an intimate friend of Steve Jobs and establishing the build and the finish of the iMac, the MacBook, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad…he’s uncomfortable knowing that a hundred thousand Apple employees rely on his decision-making – his taste– and that a sudden announcement of his retirement would ambush Apple shareholders.

Also around that time, Apple blogger John Gruber of Daring Fireball invited former Macworld editor Jason Snell onto his podcast and told him that Ive“has lately been checked out or not as directly involved with product design, and that he’s been largely focused on architecture.”

Given how Gruber has connections within Apple, this fuelled speculation that Jony Ive wasn’t happy at the company. A new report published this week by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says that by the end of 2015, after Apple had announced its first Apple Watch, Ive was showing up to company headquarters as little as twice a week, and “began to shed responsibilities.”

The impact of Steve Jobs

Of course, Apple is a famously secretive company, and Ive is also known for being quiet and keeping to himself, so there was no way of truly knowing the source of Ive’s dissatisfaction at the time. But many believe the death of Steve Jobs in 2011 took a toll on Ive.

Ive and Jobs weren’t just coworkers, or even friends; many accounts from friends, family, and Jobs’ own biographer Walter Isaacson detail the two as soul-mates.

Jony ive and steve jobsBIJony Ive, left, with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs

Jobs told Isaacson: “If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together and then pull others in and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ He gets the picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company. He’s not just a designer. That’s why he works directly for me. He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me.”

Jobs and Ive were two sides of the same coin, with complementary strengths. Ive didn’t like public speaking, but that’s where Jobs truly shined: on stage, in front of an audience, selling Apple’s latest products. Ive, though, helped bring Jobs’ messages home through his own carefully scripted videos, filmed in front of a white screen, which have become famous in their own right.

Even their offices were right next to each other: According to The New Yorker profile, Jobs’ office at One Infinite Loop and Ive’s design lab at Two Infinite Loop were connected by a “covered corridor.”

Ive and Jobs were good friends, visiting each other’s homes and families often – Ive was by Jobs’ side when he died in October 2011. But when life settled back down, Ive continued working in his office at Two Infinite Loop, right across that covered corridor from Jobs’ old corner office, which had been untouched since his death.

“I couldn’t be more mindful of him,” Ive told The New Yorker. “How could I not, given our personal relationship, and given that I’m still designing in the same place, at the same table, where I spent the last 15 years with him sat next to me?”

In 2015, just three months after Ive’s profile in The New Yorker that mentioned how he “considered leaving Apple” at various times, the company gave Ive a new title: “chief design officer.”

Interestingly, the news was first published in The Telegraph, not in an Apple press release, and the story was written by Ive’s good friend, British comedian and writer Stephen Fry. There was one particular quote from the story that stood out: “Jony will travel more, he told me.”

By this point, it seemed like Ive’s title change was more about freeing him up to travel, and do other side projects – like Ive’s RED auction at Sotheby’s in 2013, where he teamed up with designer Marc Newson to sell a handful of innovative items for charity. (Notably, Ive designed a pair of Apple earbuds made out of solid rose gold, which sold for upwards of $US20,000.)


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In the ensuing years, Ive split his time between Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California and London, near the home where he was raised. According to Bloomberg, Ive “occasionally missed out on Apple product launch events, an unthinkable absence several years ago.”

Ive’s influence isn’t going anywhere

In announcing the move, Apple emphasised that it will remain connected to Jony Ive after he leaves to form his new company, called “LoveFrom.” It’s right there in the headline of the press release: “Jony Ive to form independent design company with Apple as client.”

Apple wants everyone to know that this isn’t a divorce – it’s just a separation. Everyone is still going to be friends at the end of this.

The intention here is to assure investors and shareholders that Apple’s signature design prowess isn’t going anywhere now that its chief designer is leaving. But even if Apple lost all connection with Ive, the company would still thrive.


Read more:
Jony Ive’s Apple exit has been a ‘long time in the making’ after he was turning up to the office only twice a week

Apple faced similar concerns when Jobs died almost a decade ago. “What is Apple without its visionary genius? How could it possibly succeed?” Similarly, people are going to wonder if Apple’s designs will be any good without the genius behind the iPod, iMac, and iPhone.

Ive may no longer regularly walk the halls of Apple’s “spaceship” headquarters – a campus he helped build and design, by the way – but his influence will stay at Apple forever. His perspective on simplicity, minimalism, function, and quality are not going anywhere. Ive has inspired millions of people, and the folks who work at Apple have the utmost reverence and respect for the people who helped build the company into the monumental success it is today.

In this new setup, Ive can take on all of the personal projects he wants, and still consult with Apple on occasion. And Apple is going to have the best of both worlds: People within Apple’s close-knit design team will have an opportunity to rise up the ranks, and Ive will still get to lend his opinion whenever Apple wants it. Apple isn’t doomed; Ive’s departure benefits everyone involved. This is a win-win scenario.

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