It was a shock, just a little while ago, when news broke that Jony Ive--Sir Jonathan to us, I'd presume--whose design work and leadership has become synonymous with sleek consumer electronics, is leaving Apple. Apparently he's heading off to start his own design firm and one of his first clients will be, as you might guess, Apple.
In other words, as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs reportedly taught him, Ives is practicing focus by saying no. To Apple.
If you've got even a bit of entrepreneurial blood in you, the likely reasons are obvious. Really, how long can you be satisfying designing and redesigning the handful of Apple's mainstays? Another day, another iPhone. That has to become boring as all get out.
Things weren't going to change at Apple, at least not in the way that might offer the greatest chance for genius industrial design. Services are the new future for the company as sales have been starting to slow for its most popular devices. And while software and services need design, it's not the same type of thing. Where's the satisfaction for someone like Ive, who, according to what you can glean from his old interview with the London Standard, loves making things. Real 3-dimensional objects, trying out lots of variations to get something as close to perfect as he and his design team can conceive.
He's certainly got the money to survive on his own and it's crazy to think that there wouldn't be a line of investors going out the door to fund his new undertaking. This is where being an entrepreneur is satisfaction beyond what most people understand. You find the type of work you like and then, to the degree possible, choose customers that will work within how you approach the world because they want what you can do.
When not a pain or a panic, which it often can be, the experience is glorious.
Ive and his firm will move beyond Apple's visual design language, its narrow range of products, and address new problems that will help him freshen himself mentally after decades at his old employer.
What will Apple do? Just what it used to, which is hire outside talent in addition to hiring new people. (And it would be hard to believe that Ive hasn't left a stamp on how the company approaches design.) Ive's firm will do significant work, and there's nothing new in Apple depending on the kindness of consultants.
The design firm frog, once called Frog Design, was responsible for a number of Mac physical incarnations and also was brought in by Jobs when he was running NeXT. Meta Design is another consultancy associated with Apple in software, packaging, and identity. The firm Eight Inc. was responsible for the design of Apple's retail stores.
Even the original iPod depended on outsiders--specifically, a collection of vendors that had put together a reference design for a portable music player. Apple added the software and the industrial design of the case.
Getting any of this information can be difficult. I once heard from a vendor involved in the design of an Apple product that the company's non-disclosure form was the most draconian they had ever seen.
So, Apple will find more talent--it can afford the best. And Ive will find clients that want the best.