Apple cancels Industrial Design

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I mean…not really. They’re eliminating the position of VP of Industrial Design, but they’re not getting rid of the rest of the department. I do think it’s interesting that the ID team will now live under and report to the COO, but given how secretive their work and structure has always been this may or may not be all that big of a change.

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I think quiet, sensitive, superstar Jony was equally or more so talented at political maneuvering, aligning and backstabbing, working the system to get his way. Loyalty from Jobs helped too. There’s simply nobody else up to the task.

V interesting that the group is organized through Ops, versus a CTO or even brand org.

The position is no longer relevant to Apple. Nothing to see here. Move along.

You mean, as in the lifespan and trajectory of companies? Or is it that Apple has lost its way, or succeeded in establishing the design function as a key to unlocking margins…?

None of that. Without Jobs, or Ivy for that matter, Apple is now just “normal” with corporate structure. And as a rule of thumb, the larger you become, the less organic innovation happens. Large corporation typically buy innovation, they don’t create it.

The days of Apple being an IDer’s fantasy are over. Nothing to see here. Move on.


I’m sure the position only existed for one person. In the 90’s when Robert Bruner had the job it was a director level position. Almost all of Apple’s IDing is focused on production and re-cycling. Apple has an inherent design culture.

Apple is now just “normal” with corporate structure. And as a rule of thumb, the larger you become, the less organic innovation happens. Large corporation typically buy innovation, they don’t create it.

I’m not sure if that’s a certainty. It depends more on corporate culture and structure vs. one person and size of the company, doesn’t it?

Nike is huge and innovates even without Tinker at the head.


Innovation could be getting stifled with bureaucracy, or subject to typical NPI process. I doubt that Apple Design were paragons of rigorous ROI or accounting practice. Could feel smothering.

Yes. There are always exceptions to the rule.

But with any publicly traded company, an ID silo is the easiest target when cost cutting is on the table. Unless of course you have a champion like Jobs or Ivy. Cook is not that champion, at least this move shows it.

I would also agree, the culture can be a big driver of putting ID on a pedestal. But in my experience, that culture is built into the structure. If ID culture is strong, ID is integrated into R&D and is not an ID silo. It is more protected. In that case, yes, you can cut R&D and yes, R&D leadership can target ID for those cuts. But again, every business consulting group in the world says to double down on R&D in bad times. CEOs know this so cutting R&D in bad times is a harder choice that cutting ID.

What is the structure at Nike? Are there ID people within the R&D group? Or does the R&D group ask for resources from a separate ID group? We are the former. And my boss can can me in bad times. But it won’t make the news. :slight_smile:

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Well, Tinker hasn’t been the head of Nike design since the 90s.

They have a Chief Design Officer who oversees hundreds of creatives and is frankly one of the smartest, most strategic people I have ever had the opportunity to work closely with. We have had many a long coffee together over the years talking about the future of design as a whole. John is always thinking about what is next after next… There are multiple large buildings dedicated just to design and R&D … was just out there a few weeks ago checking out the latest. When design is a literal part of the architecture of the company it is really a part of the fabric of the organization.


I see Apple’s ID maybe missing some human factors emphasis. I see ID under Cook as weak on Human Factors but excelling on product lifecycle.

I disagree that the overalll design culture is weak. In some ways I feel that Apple wants to get everything as rectilinear as possible and disappear into the woodwork. Leaving the rest of us to integrate their monolith into our daily lives.

That is big part of the assumption I’m making in my design process. I’m trying to integrate from the Apple layer up.

I have been naming my iPhone Soap because it’s like handling a wet bar of Soap.

I would argue the opposite.
Since Mr Ive left the company, for example, Apple have added more ports and fixed the keyboards of the laptops. A win for HMI.
You do get the usual “apple aren’t innovating anymore” but that’s probably due to the lack of an ID leader with the position in the company that Jonny had. Instead, look at the apple silicon and the engineering innovations.

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@designbreathing’s original post was about industrial design specifically. ID did seem to stabilize into a consistent language 20 years ago there, so maybe they just don’t see that changing and don’t need a high level leader in that area?

to @AnthT’s point, I think there has been a lot of innovation at Apple, specifically outside of ID. And I think a lot of times it is so good we don’t even think about it. Like how when you get a new device it tells you to bring your phone near, scan this funky animation, and then all of your old data and settings from the old machine pop down from the cloud. Or how they have a robust buy back, resale, recycling program where you just input your serial number, they give you a price and send you the packaging ship it back (that takes a lot of operational innovation)… or one of my favorites, Mail Drop… not to mention how Apple Pay is everywhere. (Though I do appreciate some of those ports coming back! Thank you Apple!)

I remember reading an interview with Jonathan Ive years back. He said that the reason that design was so good at apple was not because they had better designers, it was because everyone at apple cares about design, from the person working on structural packaging to the person making AP forms… perhaps it is so imbedded in the way of thinking they don’t need that role? Or perhaps everyone on the ID team is so senior (a few former colleagues of mine are there) they they just don’t need a VP of ID position?

One thing is pretty certain, Apple is a very opaque company, they are not known for discussing these things publicly, so the best we can do is speculate.

An interview with Apple’s Chip leader and Markerter

It is definitely Apple Silicon centric but the Leader of Apple’s chip efforts casual mentions the regular product development meetings with Industrial Designers, and software developers. I think it illustrates well integrated design.

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will post thoughts after recovering from the shock

Read through all of your comments as well before jumping in with my IMHO

Back in my days at ID-IIT or IIT-ID (or whatever they call themselves these days) circa peak iPod era, the story making the rounds was the Steve Jobs was the interdisciplinary design planner - the innovator who could take existing stuff - a flash drive based music player (wasn’t Creative Labs first?); an online store full of MP3s (who remembers Napster?); and an friction-free business model (99 cents, folks, 99 cents) and pulling it all together in a product-service-business model ecosystem that was seamlessly integrated with the rest of the Apple line up of desktops and laptops and OS - it was this blending that made the magic of the iPod; a tiny device that transformed the music industry as we know it today. Because I certainly grew up with audio cassettes and later on, CDs. Now, its all Spotify et al.

And, that was the concern after Jobs passed away, that there wouldn’t be that magical visioneering of an innovative interdisciplinary design planner* available at Apple and to be honest after the iPhone and Jobs where have they really disrupted a product category or created a new one?

(*not designer, not form giver or strategist, but the ‘design before design’ coalescing of ideas of what exists, what’s possible, and what might be into a clearly defined ‘aha’ of it all). I’ll use a couple of familiar diagrams that I suspect emerged from the iPod case study which was so popular


and from Doblin (

Ive was a classical industrial designer but from all I’ve heard and read he was not an envisioner of possibilities across the entire product/service/business model ecosystem that Jobs was. The entire Apple is a walled garden from OS to earbuds strategy rests on this integrated thinking across disciplines.

In light of this, this news might just be as others have said above: we don’t need an expensive leader for what everyone has already integrated into their thinking… and, more importantly, we’re churning out commodities and may never innovate at teh Jobs level again.

No, not a Jobs fan in that sense but we’ve analyzed enough of Apple from the interdisciplinary innovation lens to recognize his skills and talents and capacities.


I think this is probably a cost cutting move and shouldn’t shake things up to much in the short term. However, someday, some VP of sales or marketing or whatever will tell a designer to do it “their way” because they are a VP and the designer is a just lower staff.

I know this, because it’s happened to me. I think designers generally don’t care about titles, but other people do. Also, they carry weight.

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Nice shout outs… the firm I worked at late 90’s early 00’s did seminal work for CL, while I was busy P2P downloading Wu-Tang bootlegs on good old Napster.

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If you wouldn’t mind sharing more, what might you have done differently?

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