The iPhone. The iPod. The iMac. If you’ve owned one of those devices (or any Apple product made in the last 20 years), you would’ve been privy to the genius of one Jonathan “Jony” Ive. The former Chief Design Officer for Apple was responsible for all of the technology giant’s designs since he joined the company in 1996.
But what is up with the “former” label? In case you haven’t already heard, Ive announced his departure from Apple late last week as he sets on to start his own design firm. Following the surprise announcement, Apple’s stock plummeted US9 billion, a tiny drip in their total valuation but a testament to how much Ive was valued beyond Silicon Valley.
It’s hard to imagine a future in the absence of Ive’s influence. The minimal, “less is more” industrial aesthetic that catapulted Apple back into the zeitgeist has permeated into our daily lives. When was the last time you’ve gone a day without spotting an iPhone in the wild?
Apple’s competitors have also at every turn attempted to hastily replicate every iteration of Ive’s designs, though few have managed to adhere to the same ethos. Sure, he’ll still be designing by way of his new company, LoveFrom. His departure from Apple is also not a complete divorce, as Ive will still be kept on retainer as a design consultant. But would things still be the same? Ive’s presence helped quell the doubt that plagued Apple following the death of its visionary founder Steve Jobs back in 2011. Now, the last vanguard that enabled Apple’s era of success has taken leave.
A spiritual partnership
More than 20 years ago in 1997, a 30-year-old, fresh-faced Jony Ive was due to meet Steve Jobs for the first time. It was a tense first meeting, Ive recalled in an interview with the New Yorker. Jobs had just returned after 12 years away (he was tasked to bring Apple back from the brink of death) and Ive was expecting to be fired that day.
But instead, the incomparable Ive/Jobs partnership was formed. That same year Ive was promoted to Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, and the duo cemented themselves back in the forefront of the industry with the introduction of the iMac G3 and its candy-coloured shells.
In the coming years, Ive and Jobs would go on to conceptualise, design, and produce devices that would evoke a wave of nostalgia today: the iPod and its analogue scroll wheel; the iPhone and its many iconic iterations and notches; the iPad that revolutionised tablets; and the MacBook as seen in coffee shops and Starbucks everywhere.
The two held the most power in the Cupertino offices, with Jobs remarking to Walter Isaacson in his biography that after him, Ive had the most operational power at Apple.
The partnership of Ive and Jobs transcended beyond dreaming up the next hot gadget in Apple’s design studio. Not only were their offices linked by a special corridor, but they were also described as “spiritual partners”. Name us a more iconic duo, we’ll wait.
Leaving the very office he designed
Things might have seemed all high and rosy since the death of Jobs in 2011 – Apple was the first publicly-listed company to hit a US1 trillion market valuation last year – but reports have suggested otherwise.
Beneath the polish and sheen of Apple Park is a discontentment stemming from multiple parties. According to Bloomberg, Ive slowly started to shun his responsibilities as Apple’s design lead post-Apple Watch release, coming in to the office around twice a week. The Wall Street Journal also reports that he frequently came head to head with Apple’s management, especially when it came to the Apple Watch.
But perhaps the most damning was the revelation that Ive was “dispirited” by Tim Cook’s disinterest in the product development process. After spending close to 14 years working and collaborating alongside Jobs, it must have been disheartening to have a clash in working styles with your new boss. But can anyone really blame him, though?
Forming new alliances
Ive’s prominence as one of the leading industrial designers of this time has scored him jobs beyond Cupertino. Previously, he has designed several high-profile accessories for the (RED) organisation with his longtime designer friend Marc Newson. They include a custom Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos, a Leica Digital Rangefinder, and more recently a diamond ring that’s made out of one solid diamond.
Of course, it made sense then to form a more concrete partnership with Newson in the form of LoveFrom. The name of the design firm stems from a quote that was paraphrased by Ive to the Financial Times:
“There was an employee meeting a number of years ago and Steve [Jobs] was talking . . . He [said] that one of the fundamental motivations was that when you make something with love and with care, even though you probably will never meet . . . the people that you’re making it for, and you’ll never shake their hand, by making something with care, you are expressing your gratitude to humanity, to the species.”
“I so identified with that motivation and was moved by his description,” Ive said in the same piece. “So my new company is called ‘LoveFrom’. It succinctly speaks to why I do what I do.”
This isn’t the end for Ive’s impact on Apple, though, seeing as they are part of LoveFrom’s primary clients. But this shift signals something more than the departure of a company’s creative lead. With Ive leaving, it heralds the end of the Apple of old. A new Apple is on the horizon, and can their spaceship take off and soar in this coming age?