According to the IT pundits, last week's biggest story was the news that Apple's head-of-all-things-tasteful has been promoted. As the man in charge of UI and industrial design, Sir Jonathan Ive was responsible for the day-to-day running of two Apple divisions. In a promotion that was leaked (strangely) through an in-Telegraph chat with his good mate Steven Fry, Ive revealed that from July he will be Apple's Chief Design Officer. He'll be doing much the same as he does now, but without having to worry about the operational management stuff. This will free him to focus soley on the thing he loves to do: design. (I can almost hear the wails of Apple's engineering department: 'You want us to fit all of this – into that??') As well as the existing products such as the iPhone, the Mac, and the Apple Watch, Ive will be blue-skying the future stuff too. He'll also have his eye on the design of the Apple stores (including the furniture, apparently). The day-to-day management of Industrial Design and User Interface Design will be handed over to his newly promoted lieutenants, Richard Howe and Alan Dye:
It's a solid move that makes a lot of sense, but it does seem to have the IT press somewhat confused. To begin with there was the odd business of announcing it in the Telegraph, rather than a US journal, and speaking to all-round good egg and unashamed Apple fan Steven Fry, rather than someone like Walt Mossberg.
Chances are that Apple wanted to keep the whole thing low-key to prevent the sort of uninformed panic we see in the IT press whenever someone in Cupertino blows their nose. Well, if that was Apple's plan it failed miserably.
Apple reporting tends to be very black-and-white: It is either the end of days, or the second coming; there is no room for any middle ground because the middle-ground doesn't create ad clicks. So on Sir Jony's promotion we have two schools of thought:
- Ive is being promoted because he wants to leave Apple (bizarre).
- Ive is being promoted so he is free to think lofty designery thoughts.
The IT press has spoken: it HAS to be one of those two. The truth, however, is probably somewhere in the middle where page impressions aren't generated.
For sure, he'll be guiding the overall design principles for the company as a whole, and he'll also have significant input on new products going forward. In this regard, his role will be very similar to that of Steve Jobs, which, from what I've read, was the plan all along.
At the same time, he will be laying the groundwork for those who'll take over after him. Not just the two chaps running his divisions, but the young UI and industrial designers that the company is taking on now. He'll instill the essence of what makes an Apple product difficult to put down once you've taken it off the display stand.
The IT press has mixed views on what Apple does best: software, chip design, manufacturing technology, battery research and development. There's plenty to choose from.
In my opinion, what the company does best is succession planning. To the majority of the press, it was inconceivable that the company would survive after the death of its iconic founder. Some still think it's some sort of abberation that will correct itself any day now.
The company not only survived, it flourished.
And so while this promotion is about Ive taking on a more Jobsian role at Apple, it is also about what happens afterwards, though that doesn't mean he's leaving any time soon.