Jony Ive: the End of an Era

Jony Ive, former Chief of Design Officer

It is a sad day for Apple fans all around. The announcement of Jony Ive’s departure from the company after 27 years, has left many worried about what this means for the future of Apple. Marking the end of the Steve Jobs era,  Jony Ive will be moving on and opening up his own design company: LoveFrom. Apple has already stated their intention to be one of the first client’s of Ive’s new business, assuring both investors and customers that Ive will continue to work closely with the company on future projects. 

After the passing of Steve Jobs in 2011, Ives maintained the creative and innovative thinking that enabled Apple to be the successful tech giant it currently is. The emphasis on design as the focal point of its products set Apple apart from its competitors, ensuring its position as an industry leader, not a follower. 

Ive was seen as the mastermind behind some of Apple’s most iconic devices, including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, the Mac, and the Apple Watch. He worked closely with Apple’s co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs and was seen by many as an extension of Jobs. He was an influential figure in the company, who worked alone at the head of the design team and reported directly to jobs and no one else. 

Steve Jobs truly understood the importance of design and desirability, which is what made the collaboration between Jobs and Ive so symbiotic and effective. As described in Steve Jobs’ biography, Steve Jobs: “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. There's no one who can tell him what to do, or to butt out. That's the way I set it up.”

What does this mean for Apple?

In order to understand the concern surrounding Ive’s departure, we must take a look at how the company was set up. Apple has had a single mastermind and ultimate decision maker (genius, if you will) since the beginning. It started off with Jobs, and then after his passing the position was filled by Ive. 

Ive’s departure will mark the largest executive change at Apple since the passing of Steve Jobs. Jobs was known for his design-first philosophy, which is why the design department’s autonomous decision-making process was so sacred and crucial to Apple’s success.  embodied in the company’s slogan “think differently”. The concern surrounding this arrangement was best described by Jon Gruber, a longtime tech critique, who said: “part of what made Apple the Apple we know in the post-1997 era is that when Jobs was at the helm, all design decisions were going through someone with great taste.” There has always been a single “genius” at the head of Apple, and this system has allowed Apple to produce state-of-the-art devices that have captured the consumer market with such energy. 

Image result for evan hankey and alan dye

Ive’s held the title of ‘Chief Designer Officer’ since 2015, yet his departure does not come with a successor to his position, it comes with two. Seemingly scrapping Jobs’s vision of a single “genius”, Apple has appointed Evan Hankey, vice president of industrial design, and Alan Dye, vice president of human interface design, to be at the forefront of the design team, yet unlike Ive, they will be reporting to Jeff Williams, the chief operating officer. Williams does not come from a design background, yet within this new organization in place, he will be the one overlooking and making final design decisions. This arrangement undermines the very basis of Jobs’ designer-led philosophy. As Gruber concluded: “I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Jony Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.”