Apple’s tightly-knit Industrial Design group led by Chief Design Officer Jony Ive has seen its fair share of notable departures in the past few years to the point where almost no one remains from the original team that began to turn around Apple’s fortunes at the turn of the century.
Christopher Stringer left Apple in April 2017 after 21 years with the company.
In 2016, Danny Coster, another member of the elite industrial design team, left Apple for GoPro. And last month, Rico Zorkendorfer, Daniele De Iuliis and Julian Hönig have departed or are planning to leave Apple soon. In fact, only two original team members who joined a year later are still with the iPhone maker—and one of them is Jony Ive.
Zorkendorfer, De Iuliis and Hönig are taking with them more than 50 years of combined experience in creating some of the best-selling technology products in the world.
One way of looking at this would be the old making way for the new. The counter argument would be that turnover on critical teams is something that should concern you, especially if you’re Apple.
William Gallagher, AppleInsider:
In 1991, that first-ever ID team had six members. Five were gone by 2000, including Brunner. The one who remained is Danielle De Iullis and he’s amongst those now leaving.
The team has been remarkably steady—at least since around 2000. It’s believed that there are now between 20 and 22 people in it. That’s how secretive it is, we cannot determine who is in this team and who is one of the many other designers Apple has.
However many designers Apple has in total, though, these departures mean that this year they’ve lost a fifth of their most crucial team. And it also means that the team is more than twice the size it was originally intended to be.
“Innovation at Apple has always been a team game,” Jony Ive told the New York Times in 2014. “It has always been a case where you have a number of small groups working together. The industrial design team is a very small team. We’ve worked together, most for 15 or 20 years.”
One thing is certain: members of the Industrial Design team are very well compensated for their contributions to Apple’s fortunes. These people are certainly not leaving because they’re not being paid enough or because they clashed with management.
There’s the factor that you’re probably bound up in Apple’s culture, and it’s got to be hard to leave that if you are. However, if you’re not into the culture or if you really can’t stand working at Apple, it won’t take you between 8 and 28 years to decide to leave.
There is one more issue that might be relevant here and that’s human nature. You’ve seen this yourself. When someone announces that they’re leaving your company, it makes other people think about it, too. Most of the time, most of the others don’t go, but it puts the idea in their minds and if anything encourages that, if anything helps make it appealing, one resignation is prone to leading to others.
That’s the case in any company, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be the same at Apple —and, again, the financial situation presumably means that the regular pressure of needing a salary isn’t a factor.
Another possibility: the top designers are leaving Apple because Services, Services, Services:
The Industrial Design team has created every one of Apple’s hardware products for the last couple of decades, so the people leaving—and presumably the people remaining—are definitely experts. If Apple is moving to Services, if there are no more hardware worlds to conquer, maybe these people just aren’t finding enough to keep them at Apple.
It’s possible and it would make sense. Then the ability to leave in financial security is a natural factor and so is the idea of just wanting to see what the world is like outside Cupertino.
The Wall Street Journal asserted that the recent departure from the Industrial Design group are nothing to write home about because Apple at the same time is bringing in fresh new blood. However, the greatest volume of Apple job ads is in the Human Interface Design department, which currently has 49 jobs open. The problem is, finding top talent is hard and recruiting the right people for the job is even harder, especially if you’re Apple.
You would imagine that Apple is an attractive company to work for, if only for staff discounts on iPads. This year LinkedIn ranked it the seventh most sought-after employer which, while down one place from last year, is still pretty good.
Yet some jobs in the various design departments are lying open for months. Apple is apparently not getting the quality of applicants it wants, and this year it’s lost four key designers from its most crucial department. Whether the attrition will be a problem remains to be seen.
According to Apple’s jobs page, there are currently seven positions available within the Industrial Design team and Apple is also welcoming portfolio submissions from people who want to work there. Industrial designers have the final say over the user experience with Apple devices. They’re all-powerful and above engineers because Steve Jobs set things up that way.
So, should we be worried?
As Rico Zorkendorfer, one of the departing members of the Industrial Design group, put it in the Wall Street Journal, Apple now has a new generation of designers. “What we’ve been able to do in the last few decades will continue,” he said, adding that the talent required to do what Apple has been doing so successfully in years past is clearly there.
Photo: Apple’s entire ID team, photographed in 2012 when they received a design award