One of Apple’s top designers is leaving, in the second departure from Sir Jonathan Ive’s tight-knit team in just under a year.

Christopher Stringer has worked at Apple for more than 20 years. His exit from its industrial design team follows that of Danny Coster, another veteran who spent two decades at the iPhone maker, who joined action camera maker GoPro as vice-president of design last April.

Only 21 people work in Apple’s industrial design group, which is central to its product development process. Staff losses are rare.

In 2015, the group saw its biggest shake-up since the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs when Sir Jonathan was promoted to take a new role as chief design officer, in the process relinquishing day-to-day managerial responsibility to two deputies, Richard Howarth and Alan Dye.

Mr Stringer was one of Apple’s star witnesses in its 2012 courtroom battle against Samsung, which was accused of stealing the iPhone’s patents and designs.

“Our job is to imagine products that don’t exist and guide the process that brings them to life,” Mr Stringer said then of the group’s role inside Apple, describing the team as a “pretty maniacal group of people” who “obsess over every detail”.

Those details were recently commemorated in a $200 coffee-table book, “Designed by Apple in California”, released by the company last November.

When Sir Jonathan was promoted two years ago, Apple said his role had already evolved beyond designing gadgets and software, into developing its new “spaceship” campus with British architect Lord Foster and overseeing an overhaul of its stores alongside retail chief Angela Ahrendts.

The new Apple Store format began its roll-out almost a year ago, and the first staff are set to move into its new Cupertino headquarters this month.

Seasoned Apple watchers reacted with surprise to the news of Mr Stringer’s exit when it was first reported by the Information. “Wow,” said Neil Cybart, analyst with Above Avalon, on Twitter. “That’s a big one.”

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