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Apple said chief design officer Jony Ive, who has led the tech giant’s award-winning design team since 1996, will leave the company later this year.

But he’s not falling too far from the Apple tree: Ive plans to form an independent design company — with Apple among its primary clients. According to Apple, while Ive pursues personal projects he will continue to work closely with Apple on a range of projects.

Ive, who first joined Apple in 1992, was the driving force behind many of the company’s products, including the iPhone, the iPod and the iMac.

“Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple’s revival cannot be overstated, from 1998’s groundbreaking iMac to the iPhone and the unprecedented ambition of Apple Park, where recently he has been putting so much of his energy and care,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.

Cook continued, “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.”

Ive’s surprise exit represents a significant loss for the company, said Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives. “Ive is leaving a hole in the company and is clearly irreplaceable as he has been one of the most important figures at Apple throughout the past few decades,” the analyst wrote in a note. “The major question now going forward is around future product innovation with one of the key visionaries of the Apple brand gone.“

With Ive’s departure, design team leaders Evans Hankey, VP of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, VP of Human Interface Design, will report to COO Jeff Williams. Ive had reported directly to Cook.

Ive commented, “After nearly 30 years and countless projects, I am most proud of the lasting work we have done to create a design team, process and culture at Apple that is without peer. Today it is stronger, more vibrant and more talented than at any point in Apple’s history.”

According to Apple, Ive holds over 5,000 patents. He’s the recipient of multiple design awards including the Design Museum London’s inaugural Designer of the Year in 2003, the Design and Art Direction (D&AD) President’s Award in 2005 and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s Product Design Award in 2007.

The London native earned a bachelor of arts degree at Newcastle Polytechnic (since reorganized as Northumbria University). He also holds honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design and Northumbria U. In 2013, Sir Jonathan Ive was made a knight commander of the British Empire “for services to design and enterprise.”