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Beats’ long-term designer says goodbye as Jony Ive says hello

As the gravity of Apple’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats headphones – the biggest in the tech titan’s history – begins to sink in, many questions remain. One of the most prominent that comes to mind is: What will become of the iconic design style that’s defined the Beats brand once it is fully under Apple’s domain? While the answer to that – and many other questions – are still up in the air, one thing we do know is that once Apple’s design team takes the reins, all of Beats’ hardware is likely headed for a change.

No one knows that better than Robert Brunner. As the “first and only chief designer” of Beats products since its formation in 2006, Brunner and his design firm, Ammunition, have helped craft the aesthetic that supercharged the genre, and cemented Beats products in the minds of an entire generation. And now, as far as Beats Electronics goes, Brunner and his team are out of a job.

The companies have been in an incestuous relationship since before Beats was born.

However, there seems to be little ill will over the parting of ways. In a statement about the changing of the guard, Brunner had this to say, “We at Ammunition are absolutely thrilled that Beats — a business, a brand, a collection of products, and a group of friends that we have put so much of ourselves into — is becoming a part of Apple, arguably one of the world’s greatest companies and certainly the most design-led company of our era.”

“I’d like to take a moment to personally thank Jimmy, Dre, and Luke Wood (president of Beats Electronics). In addition to being great design partners, they have been incredible mentors to me over that last eight years, and they have helped me to grow as a designer and as a leader. And thanks to the entire team at Beats for an amazing, rewarding journey. We wish them all the best for their next chapter.”

Not exactly sour grapes.

But those rosey comments from Brunner don’t just stem from his magnanimous nature. Brunner has deep ties with Apple. Before working with Beats, Brunner was an Apple alumn, working as the company’s Director of Industrial Design from 1989-1997. In fact, Brunner was instrumental in the hiring of Apple’s current Senior Vice President of Design, Jony Ive. Ive is now a major driving force behind Apple’s design vision, reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook. And that’s just the beginning of the relationship between the two ostensibly divergent brands. Though many saw Apple’s acquisition of Beats as something that sprung up overnight, the companies have been in an incestuous relationship since Beats was born.

Robert Brunner, former Chief designer for Beats by Dr. Dre

Aside from the design ties between Brunner and Ive, Tim Cook and Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine have reportedly been friends for many years. Iovine has been on hand to advise Cook in musical endeavors long before he became a “special advisor” in the official sense, banking a veritable mountain of cash in the process. Yet, while Iovine and his founding partner Dr. Dre will both be joining Apple in advisory roles as their electronics progeny enters the next era, Brunner will be moving on. And that could be a big deal.  

Apple will take great care to preserve the look and feel of Beats products – at least in the short run.

There’s no denying that a major part of the appeal of Beats headphones has always been centered around style. The brand’s flashy colors, banking curves, and straight up bling didn’t just change the industry, it helped redefine it. And while there are plenty of those who question the audio performance of the brand, pegging Beats products as high-priced and overhyped (including Digital Trends on many occasions), few would question the brand’s aesthetic appeal – there’s a reason you see that little ‘b’ everywhere.

Apple knows that all too well. Apart from all of the other spoils that come with its high-stakes deal with Beats Electronics, including the company’s entire hardware arsenal, its Beats Music streaming service, and the musical minds of Dre and Iovine, Apple is buying into an entire culture. That’s why, in an unprecedented move for the tech giant, Apple will be keeping the Beats brand intact when it takes ownership of the company. 

That fact sparks a lingering sense that, as Ammunition moves on to other projects, Apple will take great care to preserve the look and feel of Beats products that was so carefully cultivated by Brunner and his team – at least in the short run. Still, as the leading designer for arguably one of the most iconic and aesthetically-driven corporations in modern history, Ive will no doubt have his own ideas for the brand. And as he gets his hands wet, it will be interesting to see where he takes Beats in the near future.

As for the oft-criticized sonic performance of Beats products, well, that’s another story altogether.

What do you think a new pair of Beats headphones will look like in the hands of Apple’s design team? Are you excited about the deal, or do you think Apple has made a mistake in purchasing Beats? Let us know in the comments.

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