Apple's chief design officer Jonathan Ive, one of the world's most esteemed designers, will depart from the company later this year. Ive is considered to be the design mastermind behind tech's most revolutionary products, including the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, the Mac, and the iPod. He joined the company when it was on the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990's and helped turn it into the most valuable company in the world.
But here's the thing, despite stepping down as Chief Design Officer, Ive and Apple both claim he will still work with Apple. Ive is leaving to set up his own venture, LoveFrom, of which Apple is said to be its first client.
"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," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a press release. "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."
If he is still working with Apple, why he leaving? Why would he sacrifice what is arguably the most prestigious design position on the planet?
Ive's transition is not unlike many of the brightest minds in today's creative market. Ive's decision to operate independently is something you're about to see more of.
"Freelancers play a critical role in our economy and in shaping the future of work," said Stephane Kasriel, President and CEO of Upwork. "Despite an economic boom, which has created a record number of full-time, 9-to-5 job openings, Americans are increasingly choosing to freelance. At the same time, technology is freeing people from the archaic time and place work constraints that are no longer necessary for today's mostly knowledge-based work."
While Ive's announcement may seem like the end of era on the surface, it may perhaps be just the beginning.
For one, it gives him the opportunity to leverage his valuable expertise and expand his design influence beyond tech gadgets and software. I don't think anyone can disagree that the world could use more of his influence in shaping physical spaces, products and services.
More importantly, it allows him to leverage the economic upside of the new working landscape. According to Ive, LoveFrom will be comprised of "a collection of creatives" spanning several different disciplines beyond design.
While LoveFrom will prove to be a much more sophisticated operation, the concept of exclusively assembling creative teams with free agents is something my design firm has known well.
As the sole employee of the company, I've collaborated with many individuals at once for various projects, contracting specialized researchers, behavioral scientists, video producers, strategists, designers, engineers, and copywriters.
However, according to Dan Gardner, co-founder and CEO of the renown Code and Theory, a freeform collective has its advantages for scale and specialty on a project basis, but unlike traditional creative agency models, it falls short in cultivating culture--an essential ingredient in today's workplace.
"We believe in full-time [employment] because of the cultural aspect." Gardner told me. "We have a process and culture that can facilitate work and a community in meaningful ways."
But here's the reality: Both Gardner and I have come across instances in which highly talented individuals have refused full-time positions that have been offered to them.
Despite its pros and cons, one thing is for certain: the independent path is a force to be reckoned with.