Over Jony Ive’s 27-year career at Apple, the industrial designer picked up a lot of additional responsibilities.
When Ive leaves Apple later this year as its outgoing Chief Design Officer, he leaves a job where he was responsible for all design across Apple, including its hardware, user interfaces, packaging, architectural projects and “new ideas,” according to his Apple biography.
But even as Ive became more critical to Apple, he always had a hand in the physical world, because that’s his background: industrial design.
Ive’s departure from Apple will not immediately impact its products. Apple still has talented designers, and it will continue to release iPhones. The planning process for a complicated device like those Apple makes takes about three years. It’ll be awhile before we start to see the first products from Apple that won’t have any input from Ive.
But Ive’s announcement on Thursday does underscore a shift in the importance of the industrial design group at Apple. This small group had immense power, with offices on the top floor of Apple Park, and Ive reported directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
When Evans Hankey, vice president of Industrial Design at Apple and a longtime employee, takes over the design group, she will report to COO Jeff Williams, an executive best known for his operational skills, not his vision for product and design.
The subtle demotion of the industrial design group shows that Apple is increasingly emphasizing its online services, the power of its components and how its products seamlessly work together, as opposed to their design.
After all, the overall look and feel of an iPhone has barely changed year to year, and new models of Apple’s MacBook laptop sport the same general aluminum case as they have for the past few revisions. The design goal for most modern electronics is to disappear completely, driving focus to the screen.
Other consumer electronics companies regularly outsource industrial design work to a handful of firms. But for…