(Bloomberg) — Apple Inc. decided not to name a new executive to replace its departing chief product designer, marking a sea change for a company long celebrated for the look of its devices.
The iPhone maker’s vice president of industrial design, Evans Hankey, will not be replaced when she leaves the company in the coming months, according to people with knowledge of the decision, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
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-serving designers. Hankey has reported to Williams since he took over in 2019, when designer Jony Ive left to start his own firm.
For decades, Apple’s design czars were some of the highest-profile people in the company. Even before he became chief designer in 1997, when co-founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple, executives like Robert Brunner gained fame for shaping the company’s products.
Working with Jobs, I’ve turned Apple’s design aesthetic into something of a religion. They touted clean lines, simple interfaces, and the occasional pop of color, like the translucent cases on the original iMac.
But Apple’s design group dissolved in 2015, and I stepped away from his day-to-day role at the company. The team was divided into industrial design, which covers hardware, and a division that handles user interfaces – the software aspect of the business. Hankey has been in charge of industrial design, while Alan Dye continues to lead the other group.
Hankey’s announcement last October that he was leaving, after just three years in the role, was surprising and left Apple with few obvious successors. His departure is part of a larger exodus within the design team, making it even more difficult to find a replacement. About 15 of Apple’s top designers under Ive have left the Cupertino, California-based tech giant since 2015. Bloomberg reported in November that this has hampered efforts to replace Hankey.
Several of the company’s industrial designers left for LoveFrom, a design and consulting firm founded by Ive and Marc Newson, formerly of Apple. Still, several veteran designers have stayed at Apple, including Molly Anderson, Duncan Kerr, Bart Andre, Richard Howarth, Peter Russell-Clarke, and Ben Shaffer.
That group will get bigger roles as part of the change. But Williams decided that neither would be named the new boss and that the entire team would report to him. That move ties Apple’s operations group more closely to design, an arrangement that upset some of Apple’s creative staff. It will also elevate Williams, who is seen as a possible successor to CEO Tim Cook.
In addition to design, Williams oversees AppleCare’s global operations, supply chain and customer care, as well as software engineering for the watch and healthcare efforts. Direct hardware engineering responsibility for the Apple Watch was reassigned to John Ternus, the company’s head of hardware engineering, several months ago.
Howarth was briefly the head of industrial design between 2015 and 2017, while he scaled back after the launch of the original Apple Watch, but struggled to manage a team of former colleagues. Howarth, along with Andre, has been at Apple for nearly three decades. Meanwhile, Hankey was with the company for about 20 years.
Apple avoided hiring an outsider to take the lead role. Taking that step would have been the “death of the team,” a former member of the group told Bloomberg in November. He also didn’t want to put Dye in charge of both design groups, which could have upset the feathers.
Still, the company could theoretically name a new head of industrial design, either inside or outside the company, if the right candidate ever emerges.
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