Whenever a public-facing executive leaves their job, there will inevitably be a series of stories — typically in business publications — which try to ascertain why they left. Such stories are full of anecdotes and rumours, and it’s sometimes hard to know what to trust or who is grinding what axe.
So, I assume, many of you did the same thing I did for part of this weekend by catching up on a flurry of stories ostensibly giving some background to why Jony Ive is leaving Apple — Mark Gurman and Tripp Mickle wrote the two high-profile pieces, and I also read responses to try to get a handle on their accuracy.
After all that, I was left with the feeling that neither story was entirely convincing. Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch has written a particularly good piece distilling what he’s heard independently, as well as reflecting on Ive’s legacy:
Even though Jony is a ‘unicorn’ designer, Apple has always thrived on small teams with decision makers, and they’re not all one person. The structure of Apple, which does not rely on product managers, still leaves an enormous amount of power in the hands of the people actually doing the work. I’m not as concerned as a lot of people are that, with Jony leaving, there will suddenly be a slavish hewing to the needs of ‘ops over all’. It’s not in the DNA.
That doesn’t mean however, that there aren’t still question marks. Jony was an enormous force in this company. It is completely natural to be curious, excited and, hell yeah even worried about what his departure will do to the design focused Apple people love to love.
I have intentionally held off on posting much about Ive’s announced departure for the aforementioned reasons, but this is worth reading.
Update: I also think MG Siegler’s piece is wise.
Update: John Siracusa’s take is typically thoughtful and worth your time. This, in particular, bears worth repeating:
As the leader of design at Apple, Ive inevitably receives acclaim for work done by other people on his team. This is what it means to be the public face of a collaborative endeavor involving hundreds of people. Ive himself is the first to credit his team, always using the word “we” in his appearances in Apple’s design videos. One gets the impression that Ive has historically used “we” to refer to the design team at Apple, rather than Apple as a whole, but he certainly never meant it to refer to himself.
While I think it’s been fairly clear that design at Apple is a huge team endeavour — and though many of the pieces published after last week’s news acknowledge that Ive has taken a reduced role in the day-to-day activity of designing for several years — it remains odd to me that the single arbiter of product taste at the company is now Jeff Williams. Nothing against the guy, but it’s strange for Apple that it’s an MBA in that role.