​Jony Ive becomes Apple's first 'chief design officer'

Apple has a new plan to keep its most valuable employee, design guru Jony Ive, away from retirement by freeing up his time to concentrate purely on design.

Apple has promoted its chief designer Jony Ive to a newly-created position that will allow him to hand over management duties to other staffers, in order to focus solely on the company's next big product.

Ive's new role is likely to stave off the disastrous prospect for Apple of one of its most highly-valued staff retiring.

Jony Ive. Image: Apple

Ive, who's been Apple's senior vice president of design for several years, will become the company's first chief design officer - a role that will allow him concentrate on design and one which reflects his the breadth of his responsibilities, which span hardware, software UI, and retail store design, well as overseeing the look and feel of Apple's new 'spaceship' campus.

First reported by Ive's friend and British comedian Stephen Fry in the Daily Telegraph, the promotion was confirmed by Apple.

"We are thrilled to announce that Jony Ive has been promoted to the newly created position of Chief Design Officer at Apple. In this new role, he will focus entirely on current design projects, new ideas and future initiatives," Apple said in a statement to ZDNet.

From July 1, Ive will hand off managerial responsibilities for industrial design to fellow Brit Richard Howarth, Apple's incoming vice president of industrial design, while Alan Dye will become Apple's new vice president of user interface design.

"Richard was lead on the iPhone from the start. He saw it all the way through from prototypes to the first model we released. Alan has a genius for human interface design. So much of the Apple Watch's operating system came from him," Ive told Fry.

According to a memo to staff announcing the changes, obtained by 9to5 Mac, Dye has been on Apple's design team for 20 years, and had a hand in the design of the iPhone, Mac and many other Apple products. Howarth has been with Apple for nine years and helped Ive build the UI team that worked on projects including iOS 7, iOS 8, and the Watch.

Both featured in the New Yorker's profile on Ive earlier this year, with Dye described as a "feared" manager with a reputation for getting things done.

The promotion is likely to be an important move for Apple in the medium term, due to the perception that Ive remains one of the company's most valuable assets. As the New Yorker profile noted, Ive is uncomfortable knowing that if he'd suddenly retire, Apple's shares would almost certainly take a sizeable hit.

Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, told the New Yorker Ive has an "artist's temperament" and that he would agree that "artists aren't supposed to be responsible for this kind of thing."

The promotion will leave Ive with more time to travel around Apple's vast retail empire and bring his touch to the company's stores around the globe, while leading the design of Apple's new campus which has capacity for 13,000 Apple employees.

According to Fry's account, Ive's "signature is everywhere" at the new campus, on everything including the oak chairs, desks, and patio furniture.

The new role probably won't soothe any nerves Ive has about his value to Apple but will allow the designer to step back and take a bigger view of the company and satisfying his desire to explore more luxury design, particularly in forthcoming Apple products, likely to include connected home devices or even a widely-speculated move into the automobile industry, which Ive is known to have a passion for.

Ive has brought his design touch to Apple products from the iMac to iPod and iPhone, which have, as Fry noted, delivered the company revenues "far higher than ay company can dream of". But they're also the result of development times and costs than few other companies could tolerate - much of it riding on Ive's vision for the final product.

Besides the Apple Watch, which opens a new front in Apple's hardware strategy, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have delivered Apple's best earnings on record, helping making it easily the most valuable company in the world.­­­

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