Yesterday, news broke (from Stephen Fry of all people) that Jony Ive was to become Chief Design Officer:
Until now, Ive’s job title has been Senior Vice President of Design. But I can reveal that he has just been promoted and is now Apple’s Chief Design Officer. It is therefore an especially exciting time for him.
Inside the fabled design studio (cloths over the long tables hiding the exciting new prototypes from prying eyes like mine) Jony has two people with him. They too have been promoted as part of Ive’s new role.
Ive is already the top designer at Apple, so the title change itself is a symbolic one as CEO Tim Cook alluded to in his memo to employees (via 9to5Mac, emphasis added):
I have exciting news to share with you today. I am happy to announce that Jony Ive is being promoted to the newly created position of Chief Design Officer at Apple.
Jony is one of the most talented and accomplished designers of his generation, with an astonishing 5000 design and utility patents to his name. His new role is a reflection of the scope of work he has been doing at Apple for some time. Jony’s design responsibilities have expanded from hardware and, more recently, software UI to the look and feel of Apple retail stores, our new campus in Cupertino, product packaging and many other parts of our company.
Richard Howarth and Alan Dye will take on much of the day-to-day managerial responsibilities as vice presidents of Industrial Design and User Interface, respectively.
The timing is interesting, following the Apple Watch launch as well as the first public profiles of both Howarth and Dye — in The New Yorker and WIRED. Ben Thompson notes the timing in his Daily Update for Stratechery:
Indeed, taken as a whole, this entire episode is a masterful display of public relations: plant the seeds of this story in two articles — ostensibly about the Watch — that provide unprecedented access to Apple broadly and Apple’s design team in particular, and happen to highlight two designers in particular, neither of whom had any public profile to date (kind of — as John Gruber and I discussed on The Talk Show — Dye is a polarizing figure in Apple circles). Then, after a presumably successful Watch launch, announce on a holiday — when the stock market is closed — that these two newly public designers have newly significant roles at Apple.
What does this mean for Ive — and product design — at Apple? According to Cook, "Jony will remain responsible for all of our design, focusing entirely on current design projects, new ideas and future initiatives". Having the most creative man at Apple less bogged down with managerial minutiae seems great on the face of it, but Ive notes in the Telegraph piece that he'll be able to "think more freely" as well as "travel more", taken by Fry in part as further pursuing Apple's international retail expansion and store design, but which could also be code for spending more time in his native England, raising his young family, and working closely with long-time (and London-based) architecture collaborators Foster + Partners.
To me, this indeed seems like the beginning of the end for Ive's day-to-day involvement at Apple. I imagine he'll still be involved for some time and the process will be gradual (beginning July 1st when he officially takes on the new role), but he'll focus on larger product ideas, the bigger picture, and exploratory projects with and without Apple, while Howarth and Dye continue to lead the ID and UI product teams.