Apple is reportedly struggling to find a suitable replacement for the outgoing Evans Hankey, the company’s current head of product design. The issue is said to be compounded by a lack of succession planning during Hankey’s relatively short time in the role.
Hankey took over from Jony Ive when he left in 2019 and it’s likely Apple didn’t expect to need to find a replacement so soon. But three years later the company is left with no obvious successor and potentially looking outside the company as a result.
Succession is more than a TV show
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports that not only was Hankey not in the role long enough for a succession plan to be put in place, but she also wasn’t there long enough to stamp any clear identity onto Apple’s designs. It’s thought that even the recent iPhone 14 industrial design was laid out years in advance, potentially still with Ive’s fingerprints on.
The report says that while Apple would normally look to promote one of its experienced designers, that isn’t a clear-cut option today. The company has lost a number of key designers since Ive left the company, some to go and work at his own design shop, LoveFrom. Others have gone on to work at other tech companies or found their own, Bloomberg says.
The upshot is a company that has recruited new blood, but it’s too soon for those people to be considered for such a crucial role. Designing Apple’s next generation of iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, and more is a big job and one that is crucial to the company’s success.
Bloomberg notes that one potential replacement for Hankey, Richard Howarth, may not actually want the job. He briefly served as head of industrial design between 2015 and 2017 but was ill-suited at the time and some within Apple reportedly doubt whether he would want to take another stab at the top job.
With no clear replacement for Hankey inside Apple, Bloomberg suggests the company could look to Microsoft, Google, and others for an answer citing their respective design improvements in recent years as a sign that Apple isn’t the only company capable of making good-looking hardware.
However, Apple is known to have found it difficult to bring outsiders into its leadership team, with one person telling Bloomberg that the replacement “would need to be someone internal.”
If that’s the case, Apple’s best iPhone designer is already working at Apple Park. The company just needs to figure out who it is, and soon.