The news centered around Apple design icon Jony Ive departing the Cupertino-based tech giant to form a new design studio with fellow industrial designer Marc Newson has hit the mainstream. While it makes sense for somebody to want to shift gears after nearly three decades with the same company, we now have further insight into what might have been the deciding factor for this prolific departure.
According to recent reports from both Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, Ive’s official departure isn’t as sudden as previously thought: it’s been years in the making and, among other factors, is due to CEO Tim Cook’s growing disinterest in product design as a core business driver.
According to Bloomberg, after the (somewhat rocky) launch of the Apple Watch in 2015, Ive and his Apple Design Team began shedding leadership responsibilities; supposedly being reduced to showing up at Apple HQ for check-ins just a couple of times a week, according to those familiar with the matter. Previously, Apple founder Steve Jobs considered Ive and his design influence as one of the top Apple leaders and voices in the company and the central core of what other business conversations grew out of.
Worth noting is that in recent years, Ive, who lives in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, along with core members of his design team, set up (design) shop in San Francisco to avoid the long commute to Apple’s Cupertino headquarters every day. According to Google Maps, that commute would take roughly 60-90 minutes each way—so it’s understandable why Ive and his team would feel more productive working locally. While this shouldn’t have necessarily been a deciding factor in a leadership position, the annexation certainly could have been a factor in Ive being removed from core C-Suite conversations.
According to the WSJ report, Cook, who is known to be focused on the operations side of the business, began to show little interest in the product development process as technological leaps slowed and instead shifted his focus to other areas of business growth. Compared to Steve Jobs, who regularly lunched with Ive on campus to discuss the daily development of iconic Apple products including the iPhone and the iPad, this shift away from interest in design likely had a ripple effect through the whole company, which could explain some questionable product “fails” in recent years including the AirPower charging pad and the first iteration of the Apple Pencil.
While the unfolding story surrounding Apple and the departure of one of the most well-known industrial designers of our time is sure to get interesting, you shouldn’t necessarily be feeling bad for Ive: Apple will continue to pay him and his design-partner-in-crime Marc Newson “millions of dollars per year” to continue developing products—including a rumored pair of AR glasses that will likely shift iOS into a head-mounted display—from their newly-formed design studio LoveFrom.
Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.