WSJ: For years before his departure, Apple’s Jony Ive was ‘dispirited’ and ‘rarely showed up’ to weekly design meetings

Tripp Mickle for The Wall Street Journal:

Apple announced Thursday that Mr. Ive will leave later this year to form his own design firm, LoveFrom, after 23 years running what was arguably the most successful design operation in business history.

Few on the outside knew that for years, Mr. Ive had been growing more distant from Apple’s leadership, say people close to the company. Mr. Jobs’s protégé — and Apple’s closest thing to a living embodiment of his spirit — grew frustrated inside a more operations-focused company led by Chief Executive Tim Cook.

Mr. Ive, 52, withdrew from routine management of Apple’s elite design team, leaving it rudderless, increasingly inefficient, and ultimately weakened by a string of departures, people close to the company say.

Apple’s association with Mr. Ive will continue; the company will pay his new firm millions of dollars a year to continue to work with Apple, people familiar with the arrangement said.

Yet his departure from the company cements the triumph of operations over design at Apple, a fundamental shift from a business driven by hardware wizardry to one focused on maintaining profit margins and leveraging Apple’s past hardware success to sell software and services.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote last Friday, 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.

Mr. Cook, an industrial engineer who made his name perfecting Apple’s supply chain, sought to keep Mr. Ive happy over the years, in part with a pay package that far exceeds that of other top Apple executives, a point of friction with others on the executive team, people familiar with the matter say. Apple doesn’t disclose Mr. Ive’s pay. But people in the design studio rarely saw Mr. Cook, who they say showed little interest in the product development process — a fact that dispirited Mr. Ive.

Mr. Ive grew frustrated as Apple’s board became increasingly populated by directors with backgrounds in finance and operations rather than technology or other areas of the company’s core business, said people close to him and to the company… Mr. Ive was devastated by Mr. Jobs’s death. The studio’s cadence slowed.

“When Steve Jobs was alive, there was a lot of effort toward: Steve’s coming to the studio today, so we have to have a lot for him to see,” said a former member of the design group. “When he died, that went away.”

MacDailyNews Take: Obviously. As we also wrote last Friday, the rest of us, and many Apple employees, knew Jony had checked out at least partially years ago.

Mr. Ive told Mr. Cook he wanted to step back from day-to-day management responsibilities. The staff beneath him had ballooned to hundreds of people. He didn’t want to leave, but wanted time and space to think, he told several people.

In May 2015, Mr. Cook emailed staff to announce Mr. Ive’s promotion to chief design officer — a recognition, he said, of expanded design responsibilities that included hardware, human interface, packaging, retail stores and the company’s new campus in Cupertino.

As part of the change, Mr. Cook agreed Mr. Ive would be less present at the company. Mr. Ive often worked near his homes in Hawaii, the U.K. and San Francisco where he met with designers… Mr. Ive promised to hold a “design week” each month with the software designers to discuss their work. He rarely showed up.

MacDailyNews Take: None of this is shocking. It’s been going on for years, and we’ve been writing about it for years; see quotes below.

Before you read these quotes, for which we were pilloried by many during the times they were written, but which were ultimately proven right, as usual (since we discuss what’s really going on with Apple, not just what Apple wants you to hear), remember this quote above all:

We’re very happy for Jony Ive, who has longed to leave and do what he wants when he wants for quite some time now. Here’s to many happy years designing wonderful things, Jony! — MacDailyNews, June 28, 2019

Jony certainly wasn’t involved with the design of the Apple TV’s Siri Remote – unless he was drunk during the 20 minutes that were lavished on its so-called design. — MacDailyNews, November 22, 2016

With the Siri Remote, users can’t tell which end is up in a darkened room due to uniform rectangular shape. The remote is still too small, so it gets lost easily. All buttons are the same size and similarly smooth (the raised white ring around the menu button helps, but so barely it’s astounding that Apple even bothered; it’s a bandaid on a turd). The tactile difference between the bottom of the remote vs. the upper Glass Touch surface is too subtle as well; this also leads to not being able to tell which end is up. A larger remote, designed for hands larger than a 2-year-old’s with a simple wedge shape (slightly thicker in depth at the bottom vs. the top), as opposed to a uniform slab, would have instantly communicated the proper orientation to the user.

If Jony Ive “designed” the Siri Remote, he should forfeit his knighthood*.

*But we all know Jony has been obsessed with Apple Park for many years now and likely never even saw the piece of shit remote before they threw it in the box. — MacDailyNews, September 25, 2017

How many hundreds of billions of dollars more does Apple management need at their disposal in order to do their jobs properly? Any other reasonably competent company a quarter the size of Apple, generating a quarter the amount of income as Apple, should be able to unveil a new iPhone every year while still keeping their Mac lines at least reasonably up-to-date. Apple can’t seem to manage the former or the latter.

What’s the problem? Too big, too fast? Moving into the spaceship? Getting fat and lazy on easy recurring revenue? Too much old blood and not nearly enough new in Apple’s upper management ranks and on Apple’s Board of Directors? Jony’s painfully obvious disinterest or outright absence (see the ugly iPhone Smart Battery Case and the awfully-designed Apple TV Siri Remote, for two recent examples)? No Steve around to really motivate the troops? Founder’s quotes on the wall no longer cutting it already?

Seemingly confused, distracted, and lazy management is a painful thing to witness.

“Oh, but Apple is doing great!” you say? Sure, but you could make the case that they could be doing even better, perhaps much better. — MacDailyNews, August 4, 2016

A big picture revision and course correction would be well advised. Perhaps some new blood — not stuffed quite so complacently with RSUs, perhaps? — high up on the food chain, as well? — MacDailyNews, August 4, 2016

Perhaps having an industrial designer in charge of user interface design wasn’t such a hot idea after all?

Pick a design language, one design language, and stick to it consistently, Apple!

Once again, the issue with Apple Inc. today is a matter of focus or, more precisely, lack thereof.

Enough dicking around with doorknobs. Let’s have some serious Jobsian focus on the customers’ experience again, please! — MacDailyNews, May 7, 2018


  1. The biggest loss (to Apple’s clientele), though, was Scott Forstall, the embodiment of Steve’s smirky, wide-eyed “wonder-of-it-all” approach toward tech. I was kind of getting tired of Ive’s syrupy narrative descriptions of Apple’s latest innovations, if you can call them that. Design kind of lost its connection to functionality this past, empty decade of tweaks and blunders.

  2. random 2 cent off the cuff initial thoughts (i.e just blabbering):

    1) “Design” isn’t just Ive’s team. Ive’s group did the ‘look and feel’ of a product.
    the other parts of design are (a) the tech guys who did the processors, cameras etc, and (b) the Software people who did the OS, Apps and UI. All these make up “Design”.

    (Jeff Williams is part of (a), the tech. — well sort of anyways. Ive did the UI but not the core OS or Apps).

    but most important Design in a broader context is ‘What product and how to design it so that it would be the best for the user’.

    What I’m saying is the Ive’s team by itself cannot lead Apple’s direction.

    2) To add more colour why Cook and Ive might have issues was that other reports show Ive as more and more impractical. Some reports say he wanted round balls for wheels for the Apple car and said it shouldn’t have a steering wheel. These seem impractical unless you have a time frame really far out into the future.

    Apple design was so good due to the partnership between Jobs and Ive. Jobs was the censor of the look and feel (he rejected Ive’s first iPhone designs) and guide to the tech. He was also the guy I think who thought out the bigger “Which product among many to pick to make”.

    Ive is really talented but functioned best under Jobs.


    Final thoughts is Ive is gone and Apple is moving on.
    Maybe him staying back and just giving his impressions on prototypes etc might be best.

    1. some one posted the other day that he thought Jeff Williams was in charge of the design people because he could be a future Apple CEO (or replacement if something happened to Cook).

      thus it’s good he works with the design folks to get ‘an education and close up and personal look’ at design. Wasn’t the design folks complaints that nobody from operations was visiting their labs ? Maybe Jeff is hanging out there more often.

      1. What’s worrisome to me is this: “When Steve Jobs was alive, there was a lot of effort toward: ‘Steve’s coming to the studio today, so we have to have a lot for him to see,’ said a former member of the design group. “When he died, that went away.”

        If Apple is to remain Apple, there must be tight integration between design and operations and there should be at least one senior level position whose primary responsibility is design. That’s why Jobs appointed Ive the Grand-Poobah of design so that design would remain the top priority of the company.

    2. I think you are fundamentally correct. Designers work best When they are free to design ‘the Impossible’ but what you need is an enlightened person(s) to censor, crop, edit and productionise those concepts without taking away their essense. Jobs was the best at that and a single arbiter. Cook is no doubt completely lost in this unfamiliar world of wonders and I suspect spent much of his time in this (from his point of view) mad environment running (no leisurely wandering) around trying to calm internal infighting that no doubt filled the vacuum from Jobs demise as others came into conflict with Ive’s unconstrained imaginings trying go do Jobs Job. Certainly Apple’s production problems and confused product thinking in recent years seem to reflect some such internal conflict in recent years.

  3. This explains why I still use apple’s iMac but enjoy it less, the OS is not at good as it use to be either. Does anybody see a resemblance to Microsoft. Oh, and they are pricing themselves out of my $ range.

    1. I said Apple was moving in that direction years ago and always got flamed for it here. It happens to every business that is a large publicly held company.

  4. MDN: “Before you read these quotes, for which we were pilloried by many during the times they were written, but ultimately proven right, as usual…”

    Well, there’s the humility that was missing from MDN. lol

    It is true that MDN has been pilloried for many statements over the years. A fair bit of that criticism was valid and deserved. Some wasn’t deserved. Such is life.

    Sometimes it isn’t a matter of being “right” or “wrong.” It is how you got there. In some cases, things turn out much as predicted, but for different reasons than postulated. In those cases, are you truly right? Or are you just lucky because the same result occurred due to different reasons? Isn’t that more like selecting the correct answer on a multiple choice question for the wrong reasons?

    There is no doubt that MDN has been the source of some amazingly prescient prognostications over the years, particularly back in the early to mid-2000s during the development of OS X and the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. SteveJack was a modern day Nostradamus. Not so much anymore…

    1. From what I see, MDN simply reported exactly what they were hearing was going on at Apple, even if it wasn’t pretty and if some Apple followers and higher-ups didn’t like reading it in black & white.

  5. I have to be honest – I don’t think this bodes well for them, though time will tell. It’s been pretty clear that since Jobs’ passing, they have struggled with both software and design. The faux pas of the past number of years were virtually unheard of (though the occasional lemon snuck through) at one time. There seems to be an incompetence at Apple that just didn’t used to be so prominent.

  6. To quote Steve Jobs himself that companies stagnate when sales people run the show:

    “I have my own theory about why the decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The product starts valuing the great salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company.”

    1. Tim’s not sales. The Sales chief keeps getting fired at Apple. After Ron Johnson left, that British guy, John Browett, replaced him, then got fired, and Angela replaced him, then she got fired and…

  7. This:

    “In May 2015, Mr. Cook emailed staff to announce Mr. Ive’s promotion to chief design officer — a recognition, he said, of expanded design responsibilities that included hardware, human interface, packaging, retail stores and the company’s new campus in Cupertino.

    As part of the change, Mr. Cook agreed Mr. Ive would be less present at the company.”

    More responsibility, less presence? What could go wrong?

    1. Well, there had been rumors for years that Jony wanted to go back to the UK so his kids could go to school there, and not in the US. I’m assuming this was a way to keep Jony on-board, while the post-Steve transition was still ongoing.

  8. For over a decade Jony wasn’t CDO, cause Apple had no CDO. He earned his way into becoming a CDO. Why can’t one of the new people in charge, eventually earn their way into becoming CDO, like Jony did?

    Can you imagine how hard it must be to hire someone to come in to be CDO of Apple? Might be the hardest job in the business world to fill. Let one of the people within Apple’s current design team, organically become CDO.

    Remember how hard it’s been to find Ron Johnson’s replacement? We had some Brit from a grocery chain, whose name I can’t remember, then we had Angela, which MDN had some weird belief in, though it was completely unwarranted, and Apple made her rich beyond belief.

    And how hard was it to find Steve’s replacement? Apple has never been able to replace Steve. Tim is the closest thing to a competent replacement.

  9. To judge pass or fail of Apple last few years look at the products.

    Most of the products like the Watch, AirPods, iMac Pro, iPad Pro and Pencil etc are pretty good.

    Problem areas that I can see were:

    — Macbook keyboard
    – Too thin designs causing over heating etc.
    – Delay in Mac Pro
    – General slow upgrades to Macs (seem to have improved recently)
    – Some complaints about the TV remote
    – Some complaints about lack of ports, glued in RAM, internal tangling of wires in Macbook display etc.

    So look at these in reference of the above article and ask yourself who are to be blamed for these things? The bean counters or the design team?

    I’m an artist myself (was an art director in ad agencies) so I’m sympathetic to designers and I agree with Jobs that sales people etc can ruin a company like apple…

    .. but ask yourself did the bean counters create the shape of the remote ?

    the article says Jony Ive got frustrated administering hundreds of designers (“The staff beneath him had ballooned to hundreds of people”) , so the bean counters didn’t provide enough designers to good job on the remote ?
    All bean counters can do is provide tools like adequate staff, it’s up to the leaders of the designers to design…

    Did the bean counters specify how thick or how many ports a Macbook should have ?

    The article didn’t mention the bean counters cancelled some great projects the designers thought up.

    I’m just saying all these to remove some heat from the discussion and perhaps look at it more objectively.

    I mean the big issue there is no longer Steve Jobs to be the leader, arbitrator and tastemaker , and I’m not sure what Cook can do.

    1. above I said earlier in life was an art director.

      As an art director let me tell you handling a bunch of artists is not easy, it’s like handling a passel of whacky weasels. One artist I had wanted to put heavy metal grunge on everything, even facial tissue packaging. Another kept on wanting ‘to express himself’, until I told him to join an art gallery, at the studio our job was to ‘solve a clients problems’ not to do what you want .

      I finally quit , although the boss offered me the Creative Directors job, and I went to live on an island in my 30s . Many years later I’m still on the island , I can walk out and see cruise ships and yachts, typing this from the island now. I just work when and what I like. LOL maybe I’m less talented but I did what Jony wanted earlier.

  10. Sounds as if design has lost its primacy at Apple and ops. have taken charge. I hope that flatness and thinness are also out the door and that some forms of roundness and color return.

  11. Admit it folks — Cook isn’t a guy who gives a sh!t about design, and Ive has been mailing it in for years. Both should have been removed years ago.

    There are better designers and certainly better chief executives. Any of the managers from across town at IDEO would make a better manager than Cook. Also, more visionary leaders would put less energy into social campaigns and Goldman Sucks tie-ups. They wouldn’t allow for a dumb meme to develop that “the future is all services!”, they would capably do both products AND seamless services AT THE SAME TIME, which Apple to date has never pulled off. A competent manager would certainly lead the continuous development of much more user-friendly hardware than Ive rolled out, when Apple eventually got around to it every few years.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.