Much ado has been made about a Wall Street Journal report on three core members of Apple’s small industrial design team planning to depart Cupertino, taking with them nearly 50 years of combined experience in thinking up shiny gadgets.
According to the report, Rico Zorkendorfer and Daniele De Iuliis, who have been at Apple for a combined 35 years, recently decided to leave the prestigious two-dozen member team responsible for the iPhone’s design. Julian Hönig plans to leave in the coming months.
Apple’s closely-knit industrial design team is undergoing its most pronounced turnover in decades, marking a changing of the guard for the famed group that has defined the tech giant’s aesthetic and spearheaded the development of products including the iPhone.
Signaling that his departure was long planned, Zorkendorfer said in a statement he wanted to spend more time with his family while underscoring that Chief Design Officer Jony Ive has recently hired fresh new people to the industrial design team.
We have incredible new designers—a new generation. What we’ve been able to do in the last few decades will continue. The talent is there.
The report cites Apple analysis site Above Avalon’s founder Neil Cybart as opining that recent hires will soon assume more responsibility for product development as veterans leave.
This group is all-powerful in Apple. Industrial designers have the final say over the user experience found with Apple devices and they really do work like a family in a way. No one would argue, though, that new blood is a bad thing.
I wanted to set the record straight on this one because some blogs presented this with the usual usual gloom-and-doom headlines. I also don’t like this passage from WSJ’s report:
The departures of members of the core design team that revived Apple in the 2000s and did the work behind the iPhone, iPad and watch come amid a pause in new products, as the company emphasizes new subscription services this year instead of new gadgets amid slowing iPhone sales. […] Though it refreshed its core iPhone, Mac, iPad and smartwatch product lines last year, Apple’s most recent new product releases were the HomePod smart speaker in 2017 and its AirPods wireless earbuds in 2016.
Wait, didn’t Apple recently release the new AirPods, the fifth-generation iPad mini and the third-generation iPad Air? We also know that a modular Mac Pro is coming in 2019, with the rumor-mill calling for new HomePod and Apple TV models this year. Just because iPhone sales are slowing and Apple has unveiled some subscription services doesn’t mean there will be no new releases this year beyond the annual iPhone, iPad and Mac refreshes.
Smart people, like The Loop’s Dave Mark, know that turnover is normal. “Turnover on critical teams makes headlines,” he wrote. “I see this is the old making way for the new.” The Journal did say that Apple’s replenished its design ranks in recent years, adding creatives from companies like Nike, as well as independent studios and design schools.
And for those of you who may have been wondering what kinds of ritches are there for those lucky enough to be on the famed design team, here’s your answer.
Steve Jobs put the design group at the nexus of Apple’s product development process and lavished attention on the team, visiting it almost daily to see its latest works.
The combination of the ID team’s elevated status inside Apple and Jobs’s treatment helped create a group that worked and socialized together, becoming so tight that only a few members of the team left in more than a decade, according to some people.
Stock grants made the designers millionaires as Apple became the world’s most valuable company. Many were able to afford second and even third homes.
The current industrial design team began disbanding slowly in 2016, with Danny Coster joining GoPro after 23 years as an Apple designer. Another prominent designer, Christopher Stringer, departed Apple in 2017 after 21 years with the firm.
As for Jony Ive, he stepped back from day-to-day management of the design team in 2015 to devote his attention to designing Apple Park. Apple’s Vice President Richard Howarth led the team until Ive resumed day-to-day oversight for the industrial design group in December 2017.