What’s in a title? Jony Ive, knight of the realm and guru for Mac lovers everywhere, has been named Apple’s ‘chief design officer’. Hold on a minute, you might ask. Wasn’t he already in charge of designing Apple’s glittering array of iproducts, its chief... design... officer?
As ‘senior VP of design’ since 2012, Ive indeed already had overall responsibility for the way Apple’s hardware and software looked and felt, though in his new role that will extend to the company’s shops, offices and even furniture. Outside of the upholstery game, though, furniture rarely warrants a c-suite role.
So why the change? This ‘promotion’ doesn’t really change Ive’s influence in the company. Along with the late Steve Jobs, he’s widely credited for launching Apple to its current heady heights (the firm’s worth $763bn, or £495bn). He couldn’t be held in higher esteem there.
It could also be seen as a mere vanity to keep Ive at Apple, but again that seems unlikely. The designer is by all accounts shy and uninterested in climbing rungs on the corporate ladder. In fact, the answer appears to be precisely the opposite. Ive is stepping back from the corporate side of his job, so he can spend more time on design.
‘Jony will remain responsible for all of our design, focusing entirely on current design projects, new ideas and future initiatives,’ boss Tim Cook said in a memo obtained by 9to5Mac. ‘On July 1, he will hand off his day-to-day managerial responsibilities of ID to Richard Howarth, our new vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, our new vice president of User Interface Design.’
Of course, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see a handover to two longstanding lieutenants as a prelude to one’s own departure, but there’s little reason to take it at anything other than face value. Talking in the Telegraph, Ive said (with a little help from Stephen Fry) that administrative and managerial work wasn’t what he was ‘put on this planet to do’.
In another interview with the New Yorker, he Ive spoke about being ‘always anxious’ and ‘deeply tired’ since Jobs’ death, and admitted that he’d considered leaving the firm several times over the last 20 years.
What Cook (and Apple’s shareholders) surely wants is to keep Ive at the company for as long as possible. Letting him focus more on what he’s good at and enjoys doing seems a smart way of doing that. And if that involves a bit of furniture and a new title, so be it.