Apple's New Design Bosses Report to Tim Cook, not Jony Ive

Apple's new executive bio webpage is up, and it shows Jony Ive's new role as Chief Design Officer, along with the two new VPs taking over user interface and industrial design. Here's the twist: Neither report to Mr. Ive but instead report directly to CEO Tim Cook.

Jony Ive doesn't have design VPs reporting to himApple announced in May that Mr. Ive would get the new title of Chief Design Officer and that Alan Dye and Richard Howarth would be promoted to Vice Presidents in charge of user interface design and industrial design, respectively. At the time, the assumption was that both would be reporting to Mr. Ive since he's the go-to design guy for the company. Instead, they have a direct line to Mr. Cook.

If you think this is a sign that Mr. Ive is retiring soon, think again. First, as Bryan Chaffin has pointed out many times, you don't promote someone to a new top level executive position when they're about to quit. Second, Mr. Cook clearly wants to use Ive's skills to their full potential, and that just can't happen if he's busy pushing paperwork and handling employee issues.

What's most likely happening is that Apple is giving Mr. Ive the freedom to do what he does best: design brilliantly. Apple's executive bio page for Mr. Ive says,

Jony is responsible for all design at Apple, including the look and feel of Apple hardware, user interface, packaging, major architectural projects such as Apple Campus 2 and Apple’s retail stores, as well as new ideas and future initiatives.

With Mr. Dye handling software design and Mr. Howarth handling hardware design, Mr. Ive can take on the big picture design tasks he wants while still putting his touch on the ideas his underlings cook up.

Instead of designing reactively, meaning Apple comes up with a product idea and Mr. Ive invents its look, he can now design proactively and work more on the "what if" projects along with whatever else suits his fancy. When he needs to step in and work on current Apple design projects Mr. Ive can do that, too.

Since he doesn't have to directly supervise Mr. Dye and Mr. Howarth, there's a lot of flexibility in exactly what the Chief Design Officer does. That'll give Mr. Ive the room to flex his creative design muscles, and maybe spend a little more quality time with his family, too. Both are likely nice incentives to stay with Apple longer instead of looking to retirement.