Where Design Sits at Apple

If anyone doubted the continued importance of design at a post-Jobs Apple, those doubts were put to rest yesterday when Apple announced a few major changes in executive leadership, including Jony Ive’s move to Human Interface leadership across the entire company.

One of the oft-cited traits of the Jobs-era Apple was Steve’s tendency to stick his fingers into the remote regions of the company’s aesthetic choices and meddle. The type of flooring used in Apple retail stores. The material used for the back of the iPhone. The skeuomorphic design found in iOS apps like Notes and Podcasts. These are Steve touches, and by and large, they’ve added a little magic to already legendary Apple design.

Over the past year, though, it’s been unclear who at Apple, if anyone, would officially fill that gap. Sure, the buck stops with Tim Cook, but no one has suggested that Cook’s eye for design is on par with the previous leadership. Software and Hardware design choices remained clearly split, as Ive indicated in an interview with the Telegraph last spring:

When I mention the fake stitching, Ive offers a wince but it’s a gesture of sympathy rather than a suggestion that he dislikes such things. At least, that’s how I read it. He refuses to be drawn on the matter, offering a diplomatic reply: “My focus is very much working with the other teams on the product ideas and then developing the hardware and so that’s our focus and that’s our responsibility. In terms of those elements you’re talking about, I’m not really connected to that.”

As of yesterday, that has changed. Importantly, for the first time in more than a year, Apple has a designer with authority across the entire Apple product portfolio, software and hardware. That’s a huge, but unsurprising, vote of confidence from Tim Cook in Ive’s abilities, but it’s also a huge vote of confidence in the role of design in the Apple organization.