Inside Apple’s long goodbye to design chief Jony Ive

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg News:

Jony Ive has been leaving Apple Inc. for years. When it was finally made official on Thursday, there was nevertheless hand-wringing about the company’s future.

MacDailyNews Take: Only from those who do not follow the company even somewhat closely. The rest of us, and Apple employees, knew Jony had checked out at least partially years ago. Years ago, we tagged Apple Park as “The Colossal Distraction™” for a reason.

Jonathan Ive
Jonathan Ive
Ive was the mastermind behind the designs of the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and iPod that took Apple from the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990’s to its status as a trillion-dollar company. When co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011, Ive became the most important person at the company, ultimately deciding what products Apple would launch, how they would function, and what they would look like.

He was in charge of a roughly two-dozen person design team that included artists whose passions extended to the development of surfboards, cars, and even DJing on weekends. Many of their spouses worked as designers, too.

But after the Watch launched in 2015, Ive began to shed responsibilities. Day-to-day oversight of Apple’s design team was reduced to coming to headquarters as little as twice a week, according to people familiar with the matter… “This has been a long time in the making,” according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to discuss personnel moves. “He’s been at Apple over 25 years, and it’s a really taxing job. It’s been an extremely tense 25 years for him at Apple and there’s a time for everyone to slow down.”

Initially, not much will change, because Apple has been operating with partial input from Ive for a few years, someone close to the team said.

MacDailyNews Take: Since the announcement, our biggest question is: WTF does Jeff Williams know about industrial design?

(Hankey and Dye will report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. Williams knows operations, mechanical engineering, and holds an MBA.)

Some more shifts in structure will be required if Apple is to retain their winning formula, designed by none other than Steve Jobs, where the designers rule the roost.

No offense to former chief operating officer, Tim Cook, but the ops guy is just there to make sure the parts are in the right place at the right time at the right price. Everyone has a role.

Cook would do well to remember how Steve Jobs structured Apple upon his return, especially the subservient role of operations – and all else – to design and the unparalleled success that structure engendered. Above all, design – hardware and software – is what built Apple into what is is today.

6 Comments

  1. Ahem, Jeff Williams has been in charge of Apple Watch since it’s inception. I would argue that Apple Watch 4 is Apple’s best product (and its best design) in years.

    1. That’s a great point. When a company is operating at the scale of Apple, a successful product is the tight integration of hardware / software / services / operations. Steve Jobs once said good design isn’t just how it looks but also how it works. The hardware & software design teams will over see the “how design looks” while Jeff Williams will oversee “how design works”. Ben Thompson (of Stratechery) made a good point with respect to this;

      “There is a certain rationale — in fact, a necessity — to this approach. Apple sold 278,000 iMacs its first full quarter on the market, 125,000 iPods its first full quarter on the market, and 1,119,000 iPhones its first full quarter on the market. Today Apple sells the same number of iPhones approximately every 11, 5, and 45 hours respectively. That requires a staggering amount of coordination between industrial design, manufacturing design, and operations. It simply isn’t feasible to have any one of these disciplines dictate to the others.”

    2. Good point. When operating at the scale of Apple, creating great hardware means a tight integration of hardware / software / services / operations. Ben Thompson (of Stratechery) made a great point with respect to this

      “There is a certain rationale — in fact, a necessity — to this approach. Apple sold 278,000 iMacs its first full quarter on the market, 125,000 iPods its first full quarter on the market, and 1,119,000 iPhones its first full quarter on the market. Today Apple sells the same number of iPhones approximately every 11, 5, and 45 hours respectively. That requires a staggering amount of coordination between industrial design, manufacturing design, and operations. It simply isn’t feasible to have any one of these disciplines dictate to the others.”

      https://stratechery.com/2019/jony-ive-leaves-apple-ives-legacy-the-post-ive-apple/

      Steve Jobs once said great design isn’t just how a product looks but also how a product works. The hardware & software design teams will look after how a product looks while Jeff Williams, with his operations background will be focusing on how the product works.

  2. For every hit, Jony had at least 2 misses. Some would contend that he wasn’t all that original either:

    Anyone familiar with Ive’s design history knows that he doesn’t have a signature style, it’s the Apple team that generates the memes which of course he gets full credit for. Many of us see how stale much of Apple’s product design has become. That may be because Jony isn’t involved, or it may be because Jony has no new ideas, or perhaps because Bean Counter Cook demands that great new products can’t arrive more than once every decade or so. We’ll probably never know.

    Of course when it comes to design, everyone has their own personal opinion on how to rate their work. Some of us would say that commercial success is not a valid measure of great design (Lamborghini Miura is proof). It is also true that often great design is undermined by bad product management (20th Anniversary iMac), however it is much more frequent that a designer imposes his bad judgement onto a product (curved screen iPod Nano). When function or safety or productivity is compromised too far, or frankly when something that used to be one click on an always-visble toolbar is now multiple swipes and clicks — it’s just a bad design. I don’t care if users can adapt, it’s bad fscking design.

    Then there are the guys like Ive who have been given so much latitude that he thinks he can do no wrong, rehashing previously successful good ideas in later bad products, totally disconnected from user experience. On a scale of 1 to 10, his products have ranged from 1 to 8, and most are in the middle.

    Success: colorful iMacs
    Failure: thin alyooominyum iMacs — not because they didn’t sell, but because the user experience actually sucks

    Success: iPod clickwheel and scroll wheels
    Failure: Apple Watch crown and interface. Seriously, who likes it? Not independent app makers, that’s for sure.

    Success: PowerMac G3, G4, G5 towers
    Failure: Cubes and Trashcans. Jony never met a “thermal constraint” he didn’t like.

    Success: USB 1.0 implementation
    Failure: every proprietary connector Apple has ever pushed, and every cheap white Apple cord with gripless smooth plastic rectangular end ever produced

    Success: plastic clamshell MacBooks, Ti Powerbooks, and early MacBook Pros
    Failure: every laptop Apple has offered since 2014. You know what you did Jony!

    Success: most iPod interfaces
    Failure: iOS7 interface and Apple Watch interfaces, flattened monochrome GUIs

    Last truly great design success: the original iPhone (2007)
    Failure: all the distractions since. The book, the diamond ring, the Apple Park door knobs, the xmas tree, the alyooooominyum table, the (RED) piano, the Dom Perignon bottles, the pens, the chairs, the Rose Gold earbuds, and all the stuff he ripped off from Braun.

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