In a surprise announcement after the bell today, Apple (AAPL -1.00%) said the company's lead design officer, Sir Jony Ive, is leaving the company later this year. Working with the tech giant for nearly 30 years, Ive's importance to Apple is arguably in line with the contributions of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook.

Replacing Ive is going to be a near-impossible task. The caliber of his foresight and innovation at the company has been nothing short of groundbreaking. Fortunately, Ive doesn't plan to stop working with Apple completely. A total replacement, therefore, may not be necessary at this point.

Apple executives Tim Cook and Jony Ive looking at the iPhone XR.

Image source: Apple.

Ive's legacy

Ive has been heralded as one of the world's most influential product designers. Some of his greatest work includes the groundbreaking 1998 iMac, various other Macs, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the overhaul of iOS when iOS 7 was released, architectural projects including Apple Park campus and Apple retail stores, and more.

Ive even received the honor of knighthood at Buckingham Palace "for services to design and to enterprise."

"Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple's revival cannot be overstated," Apple said in a press release on Thursday.


Ive began a transition away from day-to-day duties in design work in 2015, when he was promoted to a C-level position alongside CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri. Two members of the design team at the time were given executive design titles in order to fill Ive's shoes for managerial tasks in design.

I wrote at the time that it was "conceivable that putting other design leads in the spotlight is a move set up to play an important role in easing the concern of Apple investors if Ive does ever step down from his job at Apple." To some extent, this has played out, as Apple stock is only down 0.9% in after-hours trading as of 6:36 p.m. EDT: Investors clearly have confidence in Ive's successors.

Taking over Ive's role this time are design team leaders Evans Hankey and Alan Dye, who both will report to Apple's chief operating officer Jeff Williams.

"Both Dye and Hankey have played key leadership roles on Apple's design team for many years," Apple said. "Williams has led the development of Apple Watch since its inception and will spend more of his time working with the design team in their studio."

After leaving Apple "later this year," Ive will form an independent design company that will include Apple as one of its primary clients. The new design company will work closely "on a range of projects with Apple."