If you follow Apple, this is pretty big news. Jonathan Ive, formerly Senior Vice President of Design, is being promoted to Chief Design Officer, overseeing the hardware and user interface design groups. The news was broken in an entertaining, wide-ranging essay by Stephen Fry. Ive was already doing that in his previous role, but this move looks like he won’t have to deal with as much of the management involved. Essentially, he’s going to spend more time designing stuff, which ranges from Apple’s products to the new Apple Campus 2 and even the chairs and tables that employees sit in at the company cafeteria.
But what does it mean?? This is exactly the sort of thing Apple pundits and analysts and armchair quarterbacks love to see, because of course we don’t know the implications. Is Ive working on something even more top secret than the Apple Watch? (I doubt it.) Is this the first step out the door, enabling him to spend part of his time in his native England where he’s expressed a desire to raise his kids? (Likely.)
Ben Thompson has a great morning analysis of the move that sets out these options in his always clearheaded way: Jony Ive “Promoted”, the Implications of Not Managing, What about Apple?.
[Updated: Also read Seth Weintraub’s article at 9to5 Mac.]
My quick take is that Ive is probably transitioning to a new, less stressful role at Apple. He can’t leave the company outright, not yet, and he’s no doubt being paid more than handsomely to stay. (One bit of speculation is that by putting Ive in a chief role, Apple doesn’t have to legally disclose what he’s getting paid. Maybe that’s a side effect of the change, but I doubt it’s the driving factor. I doubt anyone would be surprised if Ive makes more money than anyone at the company, given his essential contributions over the last two decades.)
This new title gives him the freedom to pursue all sorts of design and—most important—keep him interested. Interviews in the lead up to the Apple Watch have indicated that he’s exhausted and burned out. For someone who cares about design at such the level that he does, that’s worse than issues of compensation or hierarchy.
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