Apple’s ex-chief designer Jony Ive is responsible for some of the signature looks and feel of the company’s products, from iPhones to Macs, and a New York Times article reveals how and why he ended up leaving Apple for good.
Why did Jony Ive leave Apple?
The true story of why Jony Ive resigned from his head of design position at Apple may have been somewhat different than the official statement, though. A new book by the NYT’s Tripp Mickle, called “After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul,” reveals the challenges that the design department faced after the technocrats headed by Apple’s ex-supply chain head Tim Cook took the helm.
The article adapts one anecdote from the book that is exemplary of Mr. Ive’s increasing frustration with the company’s new, more penny-pinching and technocratic direction. For the introduction of the Apple Watch, the chief designer wanted to set a lavish event featuring a tent and involving the displacement of a dozen trees on campus that would cost about $25 million to organize.
He believed that it was more important to set Apple’s new wearable as a fashion statement than to focus on what it can do as he “regarded a rave from Vogue as more important than any tech reviewer’s opinion. The tent was critical to making the event as glamorous as a high-end fashion show.” We can’t say that this fashion accessory strategy hasn’t served Apple well through the years as having an iPhone has become more of a statement than a hardware prowess brag.
While Mr. Cook eventually agreed to set the event the way Jony Ive wanted it, as he wanted to keep its renowned chief designer happy, the overall change of culture didn’t suit Mr. Ive. “In the wake of Mr. Jobs’s death, colleagues said, Mr. Ive fumed about corporate bloat, chafed at Mr. Cook’s egalitarian structure, lamented the rise of operational leaders and struggled with a shift in the company’s focus from making devices to developing services,” the article claims, somewhat explaining why Jony Ive left a few years later.
At the time, both Wall Street and customers were questioning whether Apple could deliver a new product without Mr. Jobs. Mr. Ive rallied the company to silence skeptics with the watch. Because it was the first Apple product that people would wear, he wanted customers to feel that they could personalize it. He championed an array of leather and silicone watchbands. He also brought on staff with fashion expertise.
Mr. Cook seldom visited the studio during the process. On one of the few occasions he did, it was to see a Leica camera Mr. Ive had helped design for a charity auction. Mr. Ive glowed as he detailed the designers’ work on the camera for Mr. Cook, who nodded expressionlessly. People watching across the studio would later joke that they caught Mr. Cook’s eyes straying from the charity camera to the nearby design tables topped with iPhones, iPads and Macs that the company sold for tremendous profit. He stayed only a few minutes.
Mr. Ive started with Apple back in 1992 where his first task was to work on the second-generation Newton PDA. He was involved in the design of several important products at Apple including the translucent all-in-one Apple iMac G3 released in 1998, the cube-shaped all-in-one iMac G4, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch and the AirPods. In addition, Ive’s distinctive British accent could be heard narrating Apple’s new product videos (“this is the best iPhone yet”). He also helped design iOS 7, given that task in the aftermath of the fiasco that was the launch of Apple Maps.
By 2011, Ive was the most powerful Apple executive after Steve Jobs and was paid accordingly. That year he reportedly earned $30 million and received a $25 million stock bonus. Eventually, a new position was created for Ive in 2015 when he was named Chief Design Officer. Around that time, Ive helped design the new Apple Park campus in Cupertino.
When he announced his departure from Apple, Ive said, “After nearly 30 years and countless projects, I am most proud of the lasting work we have done to create a design team, process and culture at Apple that is without peer. Today it is stronger, more vibrant and more talented than at any point in Apple’s history. The team will certainly thrive under the excellent leadership of Evans, Alan, and Jeff, who have been among my closest collaborators. I have the utmost confidence in my designer colleagues at Apple, who remain my closest friends, and I look forward to working with them for many years to come.”
Apparently, he did have some grievances with the new Apple way, after all, which he chose not to express in public for the sake of maintaining a cordial relationship with the company he spend decades designing for. On the other hand, Apple has never been more financially successful and its products have never had more clout than they have now, so Tim Cook’s strategy may have been at least as efficient at attaining those goals as Jony Ive’s vision.