Apple's design chief is leaving the iPhone company after nearly 30 years - here's why that's such a big deal

Jony Ive Craig FederighiApple's iPhone leaders, Jony Ive and Craig Federighi.REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The man responsible for the design of the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch is leaving Apple this year.

His name is Jony Ive, and he's the British voice you've assuredly heard narrating Apple's minimalist product introduction videos. He's also Apple's chief design officer: The executive in charge of making Apple's products look and feel as good as they do.

Apple Jony Ive iPad AirIKEA clearly watched a few Apple ads before making one of their own.YouTube/Apple

But also, perhaps more importantly, Ive is the last major public connection to the Steve Jobs era at Apple - an era where design was king, and Apple leapt from boutique hardware company to one of the world's most valuable companies.

It's for all these reasons and more that his departure is such huge news, and has many wondering what it will mean for the future of Apple.

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Ive is the last connection to the Steve Jobs era at Apple, when design was prioritized over all else.

Ive is the last connection to the Steve Jobs era at Apple, when design was prioritized over all else.

Since the mid-'90s and up through the Apple Watch, Jony Ive has been the product lead on every major Apple product: the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and the Apple Watch.

Simply put, outside of Steve Jobs himself, no single Apple employee has had a greater impact on the company's last few decades.

Moreover, Ive and Jobs were collaborators. Jobs notoriously obsessed over little design details in Apple's products, and that obsessive approach was steered through Ive. He turned Jobs' vision into actual products people could buy, and those products took Apple from foundering to dominant.

It's this crucial connection to Apple's most important era that puts Ive's departure in such stark relief.

Next to Jobs, no Apple staffer has had a greater impact on Apple's rise to international dominance than Ive.

Next to Jobs, no Apple staffer has had a greater impact on Apple's rise to international dominance than Ive.

Though services like Apple Music and iCloud have become more popular over time, the vast majority of the company's vast riches are derived from creating and selling devices that people love. Those devices are often far more expensive than the competition, but they're also often far more attractive and thoughtfully designed than the competition.

Ive is the main reason that Apple's products look and feel the way they do, and those are two of the most crucial reasons for Apple's explosive growth across the past few decades.

From the mid-'90s to today, Apple's rise from boutique hardware company to the world's most profitable smartphone company has been spearheaded by a focus on products.

Look no further than the iPhone for proof — it is, by far, the most profitable of Apple's products, and continues to be viewed as the gold standard in which all other smartphones are measured. It wasn't the first smartphone, nor is it the only smartphone, but it's one of the most desired consumer products on the planet.

That's largely due to Ive's leadership on design.

In an era where the most popular smartphone was a Blackberry, Apple's iPhone redefined expectations and shattered the status quo. Ive's design leadership was crucial to its success and to its ongoing evolution into the iPhone we know today.

Ive is closely associated with Apple's product design, and products are core to Apple's business. Thus, his departure is worrying investors.

Ive is closely associated with Apple's product design, and products are core to Apple's business. Thus, his departure is worrying investors.

"Fundamentally, whoever runs design is involved deeply in product, and product is at the heart of the company," Horace Dediu, founder of consulting firm Asymco, told Business Insider.

Indeed — Apple is a consumer products company, and the design of those products has been fundamental to their success.

"Ive is leaving a hole in the company and is clearly irreplaceable," Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said. "He has been one of the most important figures at Apple throughout the past few decades."

Notably, design at Apple extends to more than just the shape of products: Ive was overseeing operating system design as well as hardware. That's crucially important at Apple given how closely integrated its software is with its hardware.

As such, Ive's departure was a shock to analysts — the company's stock took an $8 billion hit following the announcement.

Some Apple watchers, including veteran Apple blogger John Gruber, aren't so worried about Ive's departure.

Some Apple watchers, including veteran Apple blogger John Gruber, aren't so worried about Ive's departure.

Despite the stock market's reaction to Ive's departure, some Apple watchers aren't quite so concerned.

"This may be good news," veteran Apple blogger John Gruber wrote last week. "In the post-Jobs era, with all of Apple design, hardware and software, under his control, we've seen the software design decline and the hardware go wonky."

Gruber cites the ongoing kerfuffle over Apple's new MacBook keyboards as the latest example of the company's "design über alles" approach conflicting with what its users want.

"Today's MacBooks are worse computers but more beautiful devices than the ones they replaced. Is that directly attributable to Jony Ive? With these keyboards in particular, I believe the answer is yes," Gruber said.

In so many words: Just as Apple's many design successes are attributable to Ive, so are its failures.

But given Apple's astronomic growth across Ive's time at the company, and the world-changing devices he helped create, he'll no doubt be remembered more for his wins than his losses.

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