Apple’s chief design officer Jonathan Ive is departing the company, bringing an end to a tenure spent crafting some of technology’s most influential products, including the iPhone. Ive is leaving his official role at Apple “to form an independent design company which will count Apple among its primary clients.” The company is called LoveFrom, and Ive will be joined by famed designer Marc Newsom on the new venture. Despite stepping down from his executive position, Ive and Apple both claim he will still work “on a range of projects with Apple.”
So, right out of the gates — I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing for Apple, nor do I think this is a bad thing for Jony (but that’s a given, more on that later). Basically, the best product design talent on Earth, just spun-off from Apple to do their own thing. Awesome!
This of course, has happened before with Apple. I suppose there was Esslinger and Frog Design in the beginning. There was TBWA\Chiat\Day after that. Then, there was that one time when Huge founded a wholly controlled subsidiary, called Elephant whose only client was Apple. Ok, so the last one wasn’t exactly an exodus from Apple, but I suppose now, we have LoveFrom to add to the roster.
I have a feeling that this has something to do with Project Titan, which in of itself, is a fascinating project at Apple. But allow me to elaborate. First off, Jony Ive is special to Apple. He’s not compensated the same as everyone else. His salary is a closely held secret, apparently prior to Steve Jobs passing, he insured Ive would remain incentivized to stay at Apple. So his exit strikes me as odd. Fortune writes:
According to Apple, Ive is exempt from SEC rules because he’s not what the commission calls a “Section 16” employee. Despite his title—chief design officer—the company does not classify him as a director or officer of the company.
The only hint I could find about how much Ive might be making comes from Leander Kahney’s 2013 biography Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products. Summarizing a couple of British newspaper stories published in early 2011, after Ive had reportedly threatened to quit, Kahney writes:
“To cement his connection with Apple, the company reportedly paid Jony a $30 million bonus and offered him shares worth a further $25 million. At the time, Jony’s personal fortune was estimated at $130 million.”
Secondly, Project Titan was/is immense. The pressures are high, the margins are low, the R&D is insane — I’m sure everyone involved on Titan are getting spread pretty thin. The acquisitions have only just begun, and there still isn’t a viable (or marketable) product yet. I’m sure there’s no bad blood between Jony and Apple, mainly because, there’s a press release from Apple. That’s pretty telling. Even more telling is that this news story didn’t leak. At all. But Titan feels like a project that exudes a lot of friction. Jony doesn’t do friction. Which is my guess as to why he’s exiting now, rather than later.
Moreover, he couldn’t stay at Apple forever. That’s for certain, and he’s not getting any younger — so operating in a consultation capacity has its upsides: flexible goals, focused deadlines, and focused creative work. Oh yeah, not a whole lot of friction if you play your cards right. I will continue to expect nothing short of excellence from Apple in the coming years. But, I have to say I didn’t see this coming (or at least not this soon anyways). I always figured Jony would retire and run a design studio in his later years.
But overall, I’m glad to see Alan Dye and Evans Hankey are sticking around too (I guess Cook is delegating responsibility to Jeff Williams, I wonder how long that will last, that doesn’t seem very Apple to me either) — At any rate, I would be gravely concerned if Alan left during this departure. He’s also some been around Apple for a while. I’m looking forward to see what Alan brings to this new structure, but it’s weird having a Chief of Design vacancy. So yeah, I’m genuinely excited to see what comes out of LoveFrom. Not just what it produces with Apple.
As for Apple, I’m sure they’ll keep on spinning without Ive: