Apple is eliminating one of its most high-profile executive positions. Accoring to a new report today, Apple is eliminating the role of “industrial design chief” as part of a broader shake-up. This role was once held by Jony Ive, and most recently held by Evans Hankey.
Under this new structure, the design team will report to Apple’s chief operating officer Jeff Williams.
Apple is shaking up the structure of its industrial design team
Hankey has been Apple’s top product designer, as the vice president of industrial design, since 2019. She is a successor to Jony Ive, who departed Apple in 2019. Under this structure, Hankey is responsible for hardware design, while Alan Dye is responsible for software design and holds the title of VP of human interface design
Hankey, however, is set to leave Apple within the coming months, as previously announced in October, after three years in the role.
Bloomberg now reports that following Hankey’s departure, Apple won’t name a new executive to fill the “industrial design chief” role. This is a significant change to Apple’s leadership structure, as the “vice president of industrial design” has existed for decades.
The report says that Apple’s “core group of industrial designers” will now report to Jeff Wiliams, Apple’s chief operating officer. Under the previous structure, Hankey reported to Williams, but the core design team reported to Hankey.
With this change, Apple’s “longest-tenured” designers will get “larger roles,” but none of them will be elevated to the top-level “industrial design chief” position.
Instead, the company’s core group of about 20 industrial designers will report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. The company will also give larger roles to a group of Apple’s longest-tenured designers. Hankey has reported to Williams since taking the job in 2019, when top designer Jony Ive left to start his own firm.
That group will get larger roles as part of the shift. But Williams decided that none would be named the new head and that the entire team will report to him. That move links Apple’s operations group more closely with design — an arrangement that’s irked some of Apple’s creative staffers. It will also elevate Williams, who is seen as a possible successor to Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook.
Williams has an increasingly broad range of responsibilities at Apple. The company’s Leadership webpage touts that Williams “oversees Apple’s entire worldwide operations, as well as customer service and support.” He also leads Apple’s health-related projects, “pioneering new technologies and advancing medical research.”
Top comment by Graham Jones
This is concerning, because it suggests more of the same when Apple were always paradigm shifting. The proof will be in how well they hold onto designers going forward, and the ambition of the design language. If design gets sidelined in any way, then it will be noticeable in the product. It could also affect recruitment for the design team. I guess we’ll see in the fullness of time.
Williams is viewed as a potential successor to Tim Cook for the role of Apple CEO. Apple is reportedly “increasingly focused on succession planning” internally, and Williams is said to be one of the leading candidates to be the company’s next CEO. When asked in 2021 if he would be at Apple in 10 years, Cook said “probably not.”
The increasing involvement of operations executives with the Apple design process has been criticized by Apple commentators, as well as by designs and creatives inside Apple. The decision to put Williams, a veteran operation executive, is unlikely to ease any of those concerns.
I think it’s important to keep in mind, however, that Williams has been involved with the design team for several years at this point. Hankey has reported to Williams since 2019. The difference now is that the middle ground between Williams and the rest of the design team is being removed.
Apple’s product design has widely been praised since Hankey took the reigns in 2019, with many products eschewing Ive’s design language of making things as thin and light as possible. Realistically, I think Hankey’s departure is likely to have a bigger impact on Apple’s design team than Williams taking on a bigger role. At this point, however, the two will be conflated from the outside.
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