Kenedict Innovation Analytics

Apple After Jony Ive: Aligning Hardware and Software Design in an Innovation Network

As Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive played a pivotal role in aligning the industrial design and user interfaces of Apple’s products. Now that he’s stepping down and starting his own design firm, Ive’s position will essentially be replaced by two other positions: a VP of Industrial Design and a VP of Human Interface Design. What effect does this have on the connectivity of Apple’s internal innovation network, and is this the right choice in ensuring aligned hardware and software design in the future as well?

In a previous article, we analyzed Apple’s technology history and Steve Jobs’ important role in this by looking at the inventors mentioned on patents published up to 2014. To get an up to date view on connectedness within Apple, this articles focuses on the 10,816 patent families published by Apple in the United States between January 2015 and August 2019. The inventor information listed on the patents is used to draw connections between collaborating Apple employees in the networks. The patent data was downloaded from The Lens and cleansed to avoid duplicate entries for the same inventor (e.g. “Ive Jonathan P” and “Ive Jony”).

To focus on the most active inventors, we’ve filtered the dataset to only include inventors who appear on at least 3 patents in the dataset. Let’s first take a look at the full network which still includes Ive:Apple Network including Jony IveInventor nodes are sized based on their betweenness centrality, an indicator which measures how often a node appears on the shortest paths between all other nodes. Larger nodes then serve as hubs within the network, indicating important positions in terms of knowledge flow and serving as so-called brokers between various clusters in the network. Groups of densely interconnected inventors are colored based on a community detection algorithm.

The network shows that Ive occupied a unique position in Apple’s innovation network. He served as the key connector between the famed Industrial Design team (in dark red, just to the left of Ive) and the User Interface/Human Interface cluster (in green, to the right of Ive). This position is comparable to the position Steve Jobs had years ago, and is in line with what Jobs envisioned for Ive. He became the main linking pin between product/hardware design (the Industrial Design team) and user interface/software design, playing an important role in keeping Apple’s hardware and software design aligned. A closer, zoomed-in look at Ive’s position is shown here:

Jony Ive's connections

Jony Ive’s connections

Now that Ive is leaving Apple, two Vice Presidents have been appointed to take over his responsibilities. No direct replacement for his position of Chief Design Officer has been put forward. What does this mean for the connectedness of Apple’s network?

Apple’s current innovation network

The network above also includes various other ex-Apple employees who have since moved on*. These include (among others) Rico Zorkendorfer, Daniele de Iuliis, Christopher Stringer and Danny Coster from the Industrial Design team, as well as various Apple veterans who held important positions in User Interfaces, Processors and Antenna-related divisions. To get a better view on current connectivity within Apple’s innovation network, we therefore removed these ex-Apple inventors as well. A list of these inventors can be found at the end of this post.

The updated network looks like this (interactive, fullscreen version here):

The new VP’s (Evans Hankey for Industrial Design, and Alan Dye for Human Interface Design) will report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer. They are highlighted in orange in the interactive network above. Let’s take a closer look at their positions and connections:

Evans Hankey's connections

Evans Hankey’s connections

Alan Dye's connections

Alan Dye’s connections

Judging from the above, both are very well connected within their own clusters. Most of Evan Hankey’s connections are to other industrial designers, while most of Alan Dye’s connections are active in Human/User Interface Design. Interestingly, neither of them have a strong bridging position between the two clusters. This makes sense in terms of replacing Ive’s position with two VP’s responsible for their own areas, but less so when considering the historical importance of connectors such as Jobs and Ive in keeping the company’s hardware and software design efforts aligned. If Apple were to reinstate a Chief Design Officer holding such a position at some point, who could that be?

One name immediately stands out when exploring the network: Duncan Kerr. Very much like Ive, Kerr serves as one of the few linking pins between the Industrial Design and Human Interface Design teams, with frequent collaborations on both sides. His betweenness centrality is high, indicating that he holds an important intermediary position between groups of Apple inventors. Not much is known about him – according to his LinkedIn profile, Kerr has been working for Apple for about 20 years and received his education in the United Kingdom. He moved to the United States in 1996 for a job as Interaction Designer at IDEO, after which he joined Apple three years later in 1999. His direct connections are shown here:

Duncan Kerr's connections

Duncan Kerr’s connections

Apple’s choice to not appoint a new Chief Design Officer is interesting. The newly appointed VP’s each hold strong positions in their own areas, but lack the connecting power which Ive had. Based on the network analysis presented here, the designer who resembles this most is Duncan Kerr. He has many years of experience at Apple and holds a key intermediary position between Industrial Design and Human Interface Design, potentially making him a suitable replacement for the position Ive had.

Network analysis and visualization can be very valuable tools when looking for insights into the connectedness within an organization. If you have an idea or dataset which you’d like to see from the same visual perspective, don’t hesitate to contact us. The visualizations in this post were created using Kenelyze, Kenedict’s cloud-based visual analytics platform.

*: There’s a delay between the actual invention date and the publication date of a patent, so analyses based on patent data incorporate a time lag which may result in inclusion of inventors who have since left the company.

Other notable inventors who have left Apple:

Andrew Vyrros:
Bas Ording:
Bethany Bongiorno:
Chris Lattner:
Christopher Stringer:
Daniele de Iuliis:
Danny Coster:
Freddy Anzures:
Gerard Williams:
Imran Chaudhri:
Jesse Boettcher:
Joshua Banko:
Julian Hönig:
Matt Casebolt:
Mikael Silvanto:
Patrick Gates:
Rico Zorkendorfer:
Rob Schlub:
Rubén Caballero:
Scott Forstall:
Scott Myers:
Shin Nishibori:
Steve Zadesky:
Tony Fadell:

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