Jony Ive, the longtime design chief of Apple that spearheaded the design of projects ranging from the iMac to Apple Park, is no longer working with the company after a consulting agreement was allowed to expire. The minimalist designer had worked with the company for nearly 30 years before departing in 2019 to pursue other projects under a new design firm, LoveFrom. Though the announcement of Ive’s departure three years ago initially raised questions about the future of Apple’s design, the company’s CEO, Tim Cook, reassured customers and analysts by entering into a consulting agreement with LoveFrom. As a result, Apple would be counted as one of Ive’s primary clients, but he was free to pursue other projects that did not compete with the company.
The makeup of Apple’s design team already began to change before Ive left the company due to the planning and construction of Apple’s flagship headquarters, dubbed Apple Park. It is a massive ring-shaped building that looks a bit like a spaceship and houses the company’s design labs. Though much of Apple Park remained unseen after it was finished, the virtual keynotes produced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic shed some light on what Apple’s headquarters looks like. In the years before Ive’s departure, much of his time was spent designing the company’s revolutionary headquarters rather than specific products. After the design chief moved on from the company as an employee, his role was not filled.
When Ive’s eventual departure was announced, Cook insinuated that his design influences would continue to impact the company moving forward. “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 said in a press release in 2019. “After so many years working closely together, I’m happy that our relationship continues to evolve and I look forward to working with Jony long into the future.” However, three years later, after Ive helped Apple redesign products like the 24-inch iMac, that relationship has ended.
Apple’s original consulting agreement with Ive’s design firm was valued at over $100 million, people with knowledge of the agreement told The New York Times. Though Ive was free to take on other projects, Apple remained his primary client, and the company had some control over what projects the designer could accept. Apple had the option of shutting down opportunities it saw as competitive, per the terms of the deal as reported by The Times, and retained Ive’s design prowess to develop future projects. Since Ive led the development of the company’s only new product since the late CEO Steve Jobs died of cancer — the Apple Watch — he was extremely valuable to the company. With Apple expected to unveil a new project in the coming years, it was crucial to keep Ive’s talents on hand.
According to the report, that sentiment shifted ahead of the deal’s expiration date. Both parties allowed the agreement to expire, with each party expressing displeasure with different aspects of the consulting contract. Apple executives felt like they were overpaying Ive for the consulting agreement, while Ive craved more creative freedom over his independent design firm. With Ive completely removed from the company’s design team, the hierarchy announced in 2019 remains in effect. Chief design officer, Ive’s longtime position remains unfilled. Instead, Evans Hankey, the vice president of industrial design, and Alan Dye, the vice president of human interface design, will lead Apple’s design teams and report directly to COO Jeff Williams. Wherever Apple’s design heads in the coming years, it will be without the design chief that facilitated the company’s innovative products with bright colors and minimalist designs.