Jony Ive, Apple designer behind iPhone and iMac, to exit company after 30 years

Jony Ive, the chief architect of groundbreaking and distinctive designs from the iMac to the iPhone, announced on Thursday that he is leaving Apple after nearly 30 years.

Ive’s departure, which was announced in an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, is sure to set off shock waves in the tech and design worlds, but the 52-year-old Briton will remain involved with Apple. He plans to launch a new creative company called LoveFrom – and said Apple will be his first client.

“While I will not be an employee, I will still be very involved – I hope for many, many years to come,” Ive told the FT. “This just seems like a natural and gentle time to make this change.”

“Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple’s revival cannot be overstated,” chief executive Tim Cook said in a statement. “Apple will continue to benefit from Jony’s talents by working directly with him on exclusive projects, and through the ongoing work of the brilliant and passionate design team he has built.”

Cook further paid tribute to Ive in an interview with the FT, highlighting his role in rescuing the company from its early-90s doldrums: “The work on the original iMac was sort of the point at which people began to pay attention to Apple again on something other than how badly economically the company was doing.

“We get to continue with the same team that we’ve had for a long time and have the pleasure of continuing to work with Jony,” he added. “I can’t imagine a better result.”

Ive’s departure comes at a tricky moment for Apple, which became the world’s first trillion-dollar company in August 2018, but has faltered amid increased competition, slowing demand for smartphones, and the escalating trade war between the US and China. The company shocked investors in January when it was forced to downgrade sales forecasts , the first such warning the company had issued since 2002.

In recent months, Apple has moved to diversify its revenues away from hardware sales and toward subscription services, including a bid to take on Netflix with original entertainment content.

Apple’s stock fell approximately 1% in after-hours trading on news of Ive’s departure.

Ive’s influence at Apple pre-dates his employment there. He worked on the company’s original Apple PowerBook 140, released in 1991, while still employed by the British design firm Tangerine.

His first truly iconic hit after joining Apple was the 1998 iMac with its translucent “Bondi blue” casing. Next came the iPod, the iPhone and the Apple Watch.

But Ive’s influence extended beyond hardware design. Starting in 2012, he took over design of Apple’s software, which resulted in a total overhaul of the iPhone’s operating system, iOS. Ive jettisoned the cutesy faux leather and paper icons and pseudo-3D textures, opting for flat and abstract iconography.

He was also involved in designing Apple’s new headquarters, Apple Park, the $5bn futuristic “spaceship” that opened in 2017.

The designer also had his share of misses – and critics. As stunning as Apple Park’s four-story glass walls may be, the minimalist design failed to include the usual markings that can prevent birds – and humans – from walking into them, resulting in multiple 911-call-inducing accidents. In March, Apple debuted a beautifully absurd “laser-etched” titanium credit card that drew instant ridicule.

No immediate successor has been named to fill Ive’s role as chief design officer. The heads of the company’s user interface team and industrial design teams, Alan Dye and Evans Hankey, will both report to the chief operating officer, Jeff Williams, Apple said.

“I certainly have an ambition and feel almost a moral obligation to be useful,” Ive told the paper. “I feel I’ve been fortunate enough to work with remarkable people over the last 30-plus years and have worked on some very interesting projects and solved some very difficult problems. I feel keenly aware of a responsibility to do something significant with that learning.”