Apple's main replacement for Jony Ive is leaving. The company has confirmed to Bloomberg that industrial design head Evans Hankey is departing after three years. There's no named replacement as of this writing, but Hankey will reportedly remain in her position for six months as part of a transition. Alan Dye, who took the software design reins from Ive in 2019, will stay in his role.
The shuffle may not be strictly negative. Bloomberg's sources claim Gary Butcher, one of Dye's former top designers and currently Airbnb's design VP, is returning to Apple. It's not clear what responsibilities Butcher might take upon his return.
In a statement to Bloomberg, Apple stressed that its design unit has "strong leaders with decades of experience" and creates products that are "undeniably" representative of the company. There's no explanation given as to why Hankey is leaving.
Hankey had many expectations placed on her when she took over. Ive was responsible for many of Apple's most iconic hardware designs, including the iMac, iPod and iPhone. While it's not clear exactly how much Hankey has shaped product design (Ive only completely parted ways in July), she has overseen a mix of appreciated reworks and subtle evolutions during her tenure. The company dropped the unpopular butterfly keyboard-era MacBooks in favor of more practical models and introduced a few major redesigns, such as the iMac M1. At the same time, caution has sometimes been the order of the day — witness an Apple Watch that, apart from the Ultra, hasn't changed much since 2018.
This doesn't necessarily spell trouble for Apple. It does, however, raise the potential for a change in design direction, particularly for products in unfamiliar categories. The firm is still widely rumored to be developing a mixed reality headset, augmented reality glasses and even an electric car. Although Hankey's influence may still be felt with any major introductions, there's a chance her successor will add a new spin to those devices.