Everything we know about Richard Howarth, Apple’s new ‘badass’ head of industrial design

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Richard Howarth is the new head of Apple's legendary Industrial Design studio.
Richard Howarth is the new head of Apple's legendary Industrial Design studio.
Photo: Facebook

This is Richard Howarth, Apple’s newly appointed vice president of industrial design, and the man who has to fill Jony Ive’s (calf-leather) shoes.

Ive has been promoted to chief design officer to do more “blue sky thinking,” leaving Howarth to run the legendary Industrial Design studio that has been Apple’s ideas factory and product foundry for more than two decades.

Howarth is no stranger to the studio. He’s worked there for 20 years, heading up the design of the iPod, iPhone and a string of MacBooks, among many other products. He’s African-born, London-educated and has been Ive’s second-in-command for some time, earning a reputation among colleagues as a “badass.”

English as Vimto

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This photo from Howarth’s Facebook page shows him at the pub with his Apple design colleagues: Jony Ive, Eugene Whang and Rico Zorkendorfer.

Like Ive, Howarth speaks with a British accent. “English as Vimto,” said actor Steven Fry, referring to a carbonated British soda to describe Howarth.

But Richard Paul Howarth was born in Lusaka, Zambia.

He graduated from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, a London design college, in 1993. Other Ravensbourne alums include David Bowie (when it was known as Bromley Technical College) and fashion designer Stella McCartney.

At college, Howarth won an apprenticeship with Sony in Japan for a minidisk Walkman prototype called the Telephatik Fish. After graduation, Howarth moved to the Bay Area to work at the design company IDEO for a few years.

He is “incredibly, absurdly talented … and also a great friend,” Ive said of Howarth last July at an event held by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

Ive recruited Howarth to Apple in 1996 from IDEO and he quickly became one the group’s main designers. Howarth’s hire was part of a mid-’90s hiring spree that saw Ive recruit most of the studio’s 20-strong team — including Howarth, Christopher Stringer, Duncan Robert Kerr and Doug Satzger — that would go on to make the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone.

Major designs

As well as being overall design lead for the original iPhone (codenamed P1), Howarth designed a whole line of “Sandwich” iPhones that eventually saw the light of day as the iPhone 4 and 4S.

 

While the design team works as a group (with all 20-odd members contributing), each product has a design lead who shepherds it through the design process.

Howarth has been the lead designer on many of Apple’s most important products, including the first iPod; the titanium PowerBook G4; the first plastic MacBooks; and the first iPhone.

“Richard was lead on the iPhone from the start,” Ive told The Telegraph. “He saw it all the way through from prototypes to the first model we released.”

During the development of the iPhone, the designers created two major lines of prototypes: an “Extrudo” design made of extruded aluminum like the iPod nano; and a “Sandwich” design that had two plastic screens with a metal band running around the midpoint of its body. Designed by Howarth, the “Sandwich” line was the more sophisticated but harder to manufacture. The team abandoned it because they couldn’t make it thin enough. Howarth’s vision saw the light of day a few years later in the form of the iPhone 4 and 4S.

He is named as a co-inventor on 806 patents at Apple. (By comparison, Ive is named as co-inventor on more than 5,000).

Richard Howarth with Apple industrial design colleague Rico Zorkendorfer circa 2008.

 

He’s a ‘Badass’

During his time at the design studio, Howarth has become Ive’s right-hand man and apparently his enforcer. According to The New Yorker‘s recent profile of Ive, Howarth has a fearsome rep around the studio:

Richard Howarth, a veteran Ive lieutenant, soft-spoken and British, is considered “a badass, in terms of driving things,” I was told, half-jokingly. “He’s feared.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook praised Howarth’s design chops. In a company-wide memo about the promotions, Cook said:

[He] has been a member of the Design team for two decades, and in that time he has been a key contributor to the design of each generation of iPhone, Mac, and practically every other Apple product.

Howarth lives high on a hill above Dolores Park in San Francisco — not far from the Zuckerbergs — with his wife, Victoria Slaker, and their two children.

Slaker is also a high-flying industrial designer. She is VP of product design at Ammunition Group, the design company behind the massive success of Beats headphones (which Apple acquired last year). Ammunition is headed up by Robert Brunner, who founded the industrial design studio at Apple and hired Ive to replace him.

Yeah, it’s a small, incestuous world.

Low public profile

In public, Howarth keeps a low profile. His LinkedIn profile says simply: “Designer at Apple.”

He was called to testify at the Apple/Samsung patent-infringement trial in 2012, but his testimony is sealed. He’s spoken at only a handful of public events, most notably last July’s RSA conference. He credits the RSA bursary with kickstarting his design career. (Ive also got started with an RSA bursary, which funded his first trip to California where he networked with Brunner.)

Howarth’s biggest social media presence is on Facebook, which includes a handful of old pictures from 2008 showing him partying with friends.

See also: Meet Alan Dye, the man charged with keeping Apple’s gear easy to use