Kenedict Innovation Analytics

Apple’s Internal Innovation Network Unraveled – Part 2 – Apple’s Industrial Design Team

The previous post showed that Apple’s inventor network witnessed substantial growth between 2007 and 2012. The number of inventors in the largest interconnected cluster increased significantly over the years, with eventually 3 out of every 4 patents resulting from collaborations between inventors in this cluster. Especially the core of the network grew substantially denser during the period analyzed as well, with Steve Jobs always holding a key position. Who else are active in this core? Which inventor collaborations and resulting patents make up the best connected part of Apple’s inventor network? Let’s zoom in to find out.

Written by André Vermeij, Kenedict Innovation Analytics

Out of the 3626 patents included in the overall analysis in the previous post, over one sixth are so-called design patents, which detail the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture¹. These patents include the designs of hundreds of (potential) Apple products, ranging from sketches of the first iPhones and iPad’s to wireless mice and even cardboard packaging designs. Last year, an Apple designer revealed that most of the company’s product designs are initially conceived within a group of about 15 to 16 people². Perhaps this group of industrial designers also constitutes the core of the inventor network?

Let’s try and answer this question by building the 2007-2012 inventor network specifically for Apple’s design patents. The analysis is based on the cumulative network of inventors over the entire 6-year period to be able to determine who have been the most central inventors over this period of time.

Apple’s densely connected Industrial Design team
The visualization below shows all inventors (the nodes) and the connections between them (the ties) based on their collaborations on design patents. The network consists of 98 inventors responsible for a total of 615 patents. The larger the node, the more connections it has. The pink, red and purple nodes are those with the most central positions in the network. Inventors’ last names are visualized as well:

The largest cluster in Apple's design inventor network

The largest cluster in Apple’s design inventor network

And indeed: the pink/red coloured nodes right in the middle of the network are exactly the 15 to 16 key designers referred to during the patent lawsuits. These members of Apple’s elite industrial design team are led by Sir Jonathan Ive, the company’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design. The inventor with the highest centrality is not Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ive: instead, Bart Andre (one of the company’s Industrial Design veterans) takes the number one position. Here’s the full list of the best connected inventors in Apple’s network:

1) Bart Andre
2) Richard Howarth
3) Steve Jobs
4) Eugene Whang
5) Chris Stringer
6) Jonathan Ive
7) Daniele de Iuliis
8) Daniel Coster
9) Duncan Kerr
10) Rico Zorkendorfer
11) Shin Nishibori
12) Matthew Rorhbach
13) Peter Russellclarke
14) Evans Hankey
15) Jody Akana
16) Jeremy Bataillou

These are the people responsible for the designs of a lot of Apple’s current products. The inventors in the outer circle (in blue) and in the smaller clusters around the core have worked on various designs with the 16-member team, or are responsible for other designs, for example User Interfaces in software.

Based on the above analysis and visualization, we have found out that the inner core of Apple’s company-wide inventor network consists of a select team of tightly connected industrial designers. Does the same hold for other technology companies? We’ll find out in the next post.


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