Why can't Apple find the next legendary designer?

Over the years, the key to the success of the iPhone is innovation, but judging from this year's iPhone 14, Apple seems to have begun to squeeze the toothpaste. The new phone is not only a small upgrade but also leaves the latest features for the more expensive Pro models. Behind this, Apple has been unable to find a design director like legendary designer Jony Ive. The attrition has reportedly hindered Apple's efforts to replace the head of product design, leaving the company's famous design team without a person at the helm. For Apple, the design team is key to the company's long-term success.

Hard to find a successor

Since Ive left in 2019, his successor in hardware design has only lasted three years. Now, still in Ive's shadow, Apple's design division needs a new leader but lacks a clear candidate. More than three-quarters of Apple's nearly $400 billion in revenue last year came from hardware devices, yet the fate of the division hangs in the balance. Evans Hankey, who had been the director of industrial design since Ive left, informed Apple last month that she was leaving. Although Hankey has been with the company for about 20 years, her relatively short time as head of the industrial design team made it difficult for her to establish a clear vision for new products. Apple also lacks a clear succession plan, which is a major problem for a company that sells high-priced products primarily on looks.

Apple's design division has been in turmoil in some ways since the death of Steve Jobs more than a decade ago , according to people familiar with the matter. Jobs' partnership with Ive helped Apple establish the clean, simple aesthetic that's still the tech giant's hallmark today. However, Apple's increasing focus on cost and other distractions have created new difficulties for Apple's design department, according to people familiar with the matter.

15 designers have left

Over the past few years, Apple's design team has lost most of the senior designers who once worked under Ive, many of whom went to Ive's new company, LoveFrom. That makes it harder for Apple to find Hankey's successor, people familiar with the matter said. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

The loss of Apple's design talent began after Ive started working part-time as chief design officer, around the time of the release of the Apple Watch in 2015. That year, Ivey's longtime lieutenant, Danny Coster, jumped to the action-camera company GoPro. Two years later, another of his top lieutenants, Christopher Stringer, left to start high-end speaker maker Syng.

In early 2019, another group of Apple designers left. Apple principal designers Rico Zorkendorfer, Julian Hoenig, Miklu Silvanto, and Daniele De Iuliis) left. In June of that year, Apple announced that Ive would leave to create LoveFrom design consultancy, working with brands such as Ferrari, Airbnb, and Moncler.

Ive has left at least 15 people on Apple's core senior design team since 2015. Hankey will leave Apple next spring. He is not currently planning to join Ivey's LoveFrom, people familiar with the matter said.

Squeeze toothpaste upgrade

The turmoil in the design team may affect the iPhone to some extent. In terms of hardware design, this year's iPhone 14 has not changed much compared with the previous generation, and the biggest highlight of Smart Island is the cooperation of software.

In the face of a lack of innovation, Apple began to further distinguish the basic version and the Pro model and gave the latest chips and Smart Island to the Pro series. As a result, consumers rushed to buy the Pro model, and the sales of the basic version were not as good as expected. Foxconn even started Dismantled the basic version production line and changed to the Pro series. Apple's new large-size iPhone 14 Plus this year was expected to sell well, but demand was poor due to a modest upgrade.

For next year's iPhone 15, Apple is expected to continue to squeeze toothpaste-style upgrades and put more new materials on the Pro series models. Apple even put its mind on the name, renaming the highest-end model the iPhone 15 Ultra.

Who will be at the helm of Apple Design?

At first, Apple will likely look for a new visionary leader from within, but finding the next Ive or even Hankey will not be easy. After Ivey left, Hankey was justified as his replacement because she worked closely with Ivey as an engineering manager and design supervisor for a long time.

Currently, only a handful of senior Ive-era senior industrial designers remain inside Apple, including Duncan Kerr, Bart Andre, Richard Howarth, Peter Russell-Clarke, and Ben Shaffer.

Apple may find Hankey's successor from among these people, but this strategy has never worked in the past. Howarth was briefly the head of industrial design between 2015 and 2017, but he struggled to manage his former peers. Still, people close to the unit believe he is the only senior member of Apple's design department who could lead the team.

Howarth would be a natural choice for Apple, people familiar with the matter said. The Apple design team now consists of many lower-level designers, and Ive is no longer partially involved. Previously, Ivey's involvement made it difficult for Howarth to execute new ideas. However, people familiar with the matter and others questioned whether Howarth wanted the position and how long he would stay at Apple. He and Andre are the two longest-serving members of the design team. Howarth has worked at Apple for 26 years, and Andre has worked for 30 years.

Apple may also consider appointing software design chief Alan Dye to oversee hardware design, but people familiar with the team said his appointment would annoy hardware designers. Apple may also bring back a former designers, some of whom may be eligible to manage the team after holding management roles at other companies.

Another possibility is to poach from competitors. Product design at Google and Microsoft has improved, led by executives such as Google design chief Ivy Ross and Surface design chief Ralf Groene. But Apple has struggled to integrate rival executives into leadership positions. "This person has to be someone inside Apple." A senior member of Apple's design team noted that poaching from other companies would result in "the death of the team."

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