Apple Inc. has decided against naming a new executive to replace its departing top product designer, marking a stark shift for a company long celebrated for the look and feel of its devices.
The iPhone maker’s vice president of industrial design, Evans Hankey, won’t 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-tenured designers. Hankey has reported to Williams since taking the job in 2019, when top designer Jony Ive left to start his own firm.
For decades, Apple’s design czars were some of the highest-profile people at the company. Even before Ive became head of design in 1997 — around the time co-founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple — executives like Robert Brunner gained fame for molding the company’s products.
Working with Jobs, Ive turned Apple’s design aesthetic into something of a religion. They touted clean lines, simple interfaces and the occasional pop of color — such as the translucent cases on the original iMac.
But Apple’s design group was broken up in 2015, and Ive stepped back from his day-to-day role at the company. The team was split into industrial design, which covers hardware, and a division handling user interfaces — the look of the company’s software. Hankey has been in charge of industrial design, while Alan Dye continues to lead the other group.
Hankey’s announcement last October that she was leaving — after only three years in the role — was surprising and left Apple with few obvious successors. Her exit is part of a broader exodus within the design team, making it all the harder to find a replacement. About 15 of Apple’s top designers under Ive have departed the Cupertino, California-based technology giant since 2015. Bloomberg reported in November that this has hindered 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, who formerly did work for Apple. Still, a number of veteran designers have remained at Apple, including Molly Anderson, Duncan Kerr, Bart Andre, Richard Howarth, Peter Russell-Clarke and Ben Shaffer.
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.
Aside from design, Williams oversees global operations, the supply chain and AppleCare customer support, as well as software engineering for the watch and health efforts. Direct responsibility for hardware engineering for the Apple Watch was reassigned to John Ternus, the company’s hardware engineering chief, several months ago.
Howarth was briefly the head of industrial design between 2015 and 2017 — while Ive reduced his involvement following the launch of the original Apple Watch — but he struggled to manage a crew of former peers. Howarth, along with Andre, has been at Apple for nearly three decades. Hankey, meanwhile, was at the company for about 20 years.
Apple eschewed hiring an outsider to take the top role. Taking that step would have been the “death of the team,” a longtime member of the group told Bloomberg in November. It also didn’t want to put Dye in charge of both design groups, which could have ruffled feathers.
Still, the company could theoretically name a new industrial design head — from either inside or outside the company — if the right candidate emerges one day.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.