The man in charge of Apple’s Secret Design Studio leaves as Ive starts new role

Screenshot 2015-07-02 19.09.11

Jony Ive’s well-documented aide Harper Alexander, who managed Apple’s secretive design studio, appears to have left his role at Apple. In his own words, Alexander was previously in charge of Ive’s design studio, calendar, security, meetings, expenses, and personal projects, since 2009.

Referenced in multiple recent profiles as Ive’s top assistant, Harper updated his LinkedIn on July 1st, Ive’s first day in his new “Chief Design Officer” role, to indicate that he no longer runs Ive’s design studio or serves as executive assistant to Apple’s CDO. On July 1st, this is what became of Harper’s biography:

Screenshot 2015-07-01 10.52.46

He clearly states he “was” Ive’s assistant and office manager, and that he finished this job in July 2015. After discovering this change on Alexander’ LinkedIn, we contacted him for comment, and received no reply. A day later, his only public-facing website was deleted and his LinkedIn biography was mostly reverted to its state prior to July 1st:

Screenshot 2015-07-02 16.10.06

It is possible that Alexander has not left Apple and has instead taken on a new role, but his brief biography change on the LinkedIn job site does seem to strongly indicate that he no longer is Ive’s assistant nor in charge of Apple’s design studio. While Apple has positioned Ive’s move to “Chief Design Officer” as a promotion, the possibility that his Cupertino-based assistant would depart on the first official day of the new role is intriguing.

Alexander no longer being Ive’s assistant would indicate that Ive no longer has any direct reports. Contrary to what was implied in The Telegraph’s Memorial Day 2015 profile of Ive and his new role and Apple CEO Tim Cook’s own email to employees, the new vice presidents of Human Interface and Industrial Design, Alan Dye and Richard Howarth, actually report to Cook rather than Ive.

This means that Ive is shedding the entirety of his managerial duties with this new role, and the possibility of his assistant leaving raises the question of how involved Ive could be at Apple to no longer need a design studio manager or lead assistant. Of course, it is possible that Apple could simply have hired a replacement for Alexander, but the July 1st timing seems to indicate a planned departure.

Following the announcement of Ive’s new role, we noted that the change raises several interesting questions that could point to Ive reducing his direct product involvement at Apple beyond what Apple has portrayed. Ive’s top assistant and office manager leaving, combined with Dye and Howarth actually reporting to Cook, adds fuel to the theory that Ive’s responsibilities are shrinking rather than growing.

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  1. PhilBoogie - 8 years ago

    Truly amazing reporting here. To find such a change, which gets reverted quickly, is good journalism. Props to you Mark.

    • Photographers Alliance - 8 years ago

      This is pure bullshit journalism. There is no story here. The headline is false and misleading. Halfway into the story, the writer admits he has no proof Alexander has left. None. He’s merely speculating. That’s piss-poor reporting. “So I heard a rumor, let’s go ahead and pretend it’s a fact!” This is the new yellow journalism of the ‘Net.

      • Seth Weintraub - 8 years ago

        Lol, “writer admits he has no proof Alexander has left. None. He’s merely speculating.”

        except for the screenshot of the guys linkedin where he said he left apple.

  2. kpom1 - 8 years ago

    Ive is moving to a strategic role. He no longer needs to complete staff evaluations but can concentrate on what he does best.

  3. Alex Moran - 8 years ago

    Mark Gurman. The only real reporter on this website. Still think you should go independent as soon as you have the means to do so.

    • charismatron - 8 years ago

      While Gurman obviously has the greatest access to the best scoops, it doesn’t lessen what others contribute to the site. If another author provided equally insightful information, it would be Gurman PLUS the other guy that should go independent, by this way of thinking.

      Each person here on 9to5 has something to contribute, and not everyone can have the inside stories Gurman does. I enjoy 9to5 a LOT more than, say, The Mac Observer, which by comparison has every content provider to go out of their way to polish Apple’s knob. 9to5 has great scoops, praise and criticism of and about Apple where ever its deserved, and I appreciate that.

      9to5 has a well-rounded cast of content providers, so while I respect your opinion, I feel somewhat differently about it. In the end, should Gurman depart, I’d definitely still chill here at 9to5!


      • irelandjnr - 8 years ago

        @charismatron agreed. Now all we need is to switch to a decent comment system like Disqus and we’d be on the way. The WordPress comments system is very possibly the worst comment system in existence.

    • AeronPeryton - 8 years ago

      This whole site is made up of different people who are good at different things. Separating Mark from the site would lessen both.

    • asdarwish - 8 years ago

      I respectfully disagree. The entire team forms an excellent balance, and I enjoy each and every article, including, obviously Mark ones.

  4. Iven Tenz (@ivenalot) - 8 years ago

    It is known that in design apartments roles are changing. Even at german car manufactures. Sometimes they invite totally random people to their designs, to get a review / aspect that they might have overseen or didn’t notice after several years of experience.

    Design shouldn’t be stuck. It needs to grow and go forward. Ive had a great career and did a fantastic job, but even a balloon looses air after time. What do you always say? It’s always best to leave when things are at their best. And he will be remembered with great designs.

  5. Mick Roberts - 8 years ago

    Since Steve Jobs gave Jony ‘more operational power’ than anyone else (including Tim) at Apple, I wonder how they will handle what appears to be his eventual departure. I am guessing we will start to see an increasing amount of press regarding Alan Dye and/or Richard Howarth.

    • irelandjnr - 8 years ago

      ‘I wonder how they will handle what appears to be his eventual departure..’

      Jumping to conclusions are we? No one knows what the move really signifies, but my best guess would be it’s taking some a the pressure from him so he can stay at Apple even longer than he would have otherwise.

      • rogifan - 8 years ago

        Dieter Rams started at Braun in 1955. In 1961 they made him Chief Design Officer. He remained in that position for 34 years! Outside of giving up day to day managerial stuff we don’t know what Ive is giving up (or gaining). But for the sake of argument let’s say

      • rogifan - 8 years ago

        Dieter Rams started at Braun in 1955. In 1961 they made him Chief Design Officer. He remained in that position for 34 years! Outside of giving up day to day managerial stuff we don’t know what Ive is giving up (or gaining). But for the sake of argument let’s say Cook has lightened Ive’s workload. Wouldn’t that make him more likely to stay since he’d be able to focus on what interests him most and would be less likely to burn out? If he wanted to retire he would just retire. Cook certainly wouldn’t create a new title for somebody planning to retire.

  6. Gary Dauphin - 8 years ago

    This is just as much news, if not more, than some of the crap BGR is “reporting’ these days.

    Anyway, I find this intriguing. Sir Jonny is about to seriously change is role. Yes, he could still influence design, but without direct reports and a studio, how much designing can he actually do? My guess: he will be moving back to England and settle into a consulting role, working on both Apple and non-Apple projects.

    That being said, Cupertino still needs a design studio. Nothing here indicates that the studio nor it’s team is being dismantled, only that Jony’s once personal assistant is no longer a driver there. Who is? What changes will we see? Only time will tell.

    • rogifan - 8 years ago

      It makes zero sense to me that he’d move back to England. The New Yorker profile specifically mentioned that he sold his house in England (because he and his family were never there) and that he’s renovating a $17M mansion in San Francisco. Why would he buy a big house in SF if he was moving back to England?

      • alanaudio - 8 years ago

        He might have sold one house in England, but I understand that he still owns a substantial family home near the southern coast of England.

        Jony is a very rich man with good reasons to spend time both in America and England. People in that sort of situation usually own more than one home.

        My guess is that he will be increasing the proportion of his time spent in England, but still spending the greater part of his time in the US. Looking further into the future, he may choose to adjust that ratio. Furthermore, if he is getting involved with designing an Apple car, there are a lot of companies based in Europe which could offer technology and expertise that would be invaluable in such a project.

    • rogifan - 8 years ago

      No the substantial house he had in England he sold:

      Ive told me that he never planned to move: he and his wife bought the house for family vacations, and sold it when it was underused. But he also connected the sale to what he called inaccurate reporting, in the London Times, in early 2011, claiming that Apple’s board had thwarted his hope of a relocation; he did not want to be shadowed by gossip. In 2012, Ive was knighted in Buckingham Palace; by then, he and his wife had become U.S. citizens, although they did not relinquish their British passports.

      Why would he and his wife become U.S. citizens if the plan was to return to England? Also from the New Yorker piece:

      A few years ago, the Ives bought a nineteen-twenties mansion in Pacific Heights, with striking views, and Ann Getty and Larry Ellison as neighbors. The house is undergoing a seismic renovation. The Ives also own a beach house on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

  7. eduardo1271 - 8 years ago

    Wow, great reporting!

    Raises new questions as well as answers others.

    9 to 5 has been great source of balanced, in-depth, and solid reporting.

  8. rogifan - 8 years ago

    If Ive’s duties were shrinking and he has one foot out the door why would Cook (and the board) promote him and create a c-level title for him? And why would his updated bio say he’s responsible for all design, including hardware and software if he wasn’t? Eric Jackson suggests Apple is shedding Ive of direct reports so they don’t have to disclose his salary to the SEC.

  9. George Pollen - 8 years ago

    This news suggests Ive is really moving out of Peyton Place and, in his haste, totally neglected his sidekick Alexander. When Cook et al. discovered the oversight, they stepped up to assure Alexander of a prominent role which is yet to be entirely defined.

  10. RP - 8 years ago

    Things change. Nothing lasts forever. Such is life.

  11. Markus Galla - 8 years ago

    I do not like this “man cult” – not around Jobs, not Cook, not Ives. In big companies there are changes all the time. Who needs to worry about this unless there is a drastic change in product quality? First people worried about Ives going for a flat iOS and OSX design. How could he do so? Everyone will hate it……now you worry about Ives taking a backseat role? What’s wrong with you? Apple won’t care about your worries anyway…..

    • Soluble Apps - 8 years ago

      In fairness the article didn’t say “Ive is leaving, the sky is falling in, Apple are DOOMED”, it merely covered the evidence that changes are afoot.

  12. devanealex - 8 years ago

    I think we need to stop with the conspiracies that Jony Ive is leaving the company and is becoming less involved. The opposite is true. His design responsibilities have increased. Not only is he in charge of hardware and software design (as he used to be), he also leads the designs teams of Apple’s retails stores, packaging and the new Apple campus interior (including a number of furniture pieces). You don’t start to leave a company by increasing your influence. His role will be similar to Steve Jobs’s influence – not getting down to the nitty gritty bits of the work but being the visionary.

    • rogifan - 8 years ago

      Exactly. Prior to 2012 Ive was responsible for hardware design. In 2012 he picked up software design as well. His current bio says he’s responsible for “all design at Apple, including the look and feel of Apple hardware, user interface, packaging, major architectural projects such as Apple Campus 2 and Apple’s retail stores, as well as new ideas and future initiatives”.

      I don’t see where he’s losing responsibility; if anything he’s gained more with product packaging (which I believe used to be part of marketing), oversight of campus 2 and retail store designs and whatever “new ideas and future initiatives” are (car perhaps? Battery technology? more wearables? AI/VR?).

  13. Archimo (@archimo) - 8 years ago

    Why couldn’t it be determined where he is this summer. Surely he could be spotted in a cafe in either California or London. I remember seeing photos of Steve out and about and the speculation on his health based on the photos. Why can a reporter camp out on weekday mornings near his house and see if he goes to work. I also heard no one report whether Jony was at the most recent WWDC.

    • rogifan - 8 years ago

      Ive was at WWDC. He was sitting next to Steve’s wife in the front row.

  14. vkd108 - 8 years ago

    Looks like he entered into a cloud of confusion, had a meeting with someone to clarify matters, then promptly reverted his data to its previous state.

  15. vkd108 - 8 years ago

    Looks like the so-called reporter was short of anything to report on and without applying analytical capacity simply created a shock report with no grounding. Nothing better to do.

  16. asdarwish - 8 years ago

    Exellent scoop Mark!

    I’m following this great website for 2 years now, and it’s the most balanced and honest website regarding Apple! Everyone in the team seems to really loves what Apple stands for, without getting slid into tribalism or PR-like articles ;-)

  17. anon - 8 years ago

    Uh, well documented by who? Google brings no results about Harper Alexander. I’ve never even heard of that name. The link itself has no mention of the name either.

  18. Why is this news????? This guy sounds like an administrator, no design responsibilities. OMG someone else will be making travel arrangements for Jon Ive!