Meet the man charged with keeping Apple’s gear easy to use

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Apple Watch
The Apple Watch interface was overseen by Alan Dye.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

The man charged with keeping Apple user interfaces looking and working beautifully made his bones by suggesting hand-painted boxes for the original iPhone.

That’s just one shimmery detail from the resume of Alan Dye, Apple’s new vice president of user interface design. Here’s everything else you need to know about the man taking over from Jony Ive when it comes to the day-to-day running of all things UI.

Dye joined Apple in 2006, nine years after graduating from Syracuse University’s communications design program.

Prior to making the leap to Cupertino, he worked as a senior designer at brand consultancy Landor Associates, as a designer at Ogilvy & Mather’s unconventional Brand Integration Group, and as a design director at luxury women’s retailer Kate Spade. On top of this Dye freelanced as a graphic designer for The New York Times, The New York Magazine, book publishers and others.

As a freelancer he was well-known by editors for his ability to work quickly; regularly receiving a finished story at 11 a.m. and turning in a final illustration by 6 p.m.

Alan Dye's LinkedIn profile pic.
Alan Dye’s LinkedIn profile pic.
Photo: Alan Dye

Dye arrived at Apple the year before the iPhone was announced, with the job title “creative director.” He initially worked with the Marcom (marketing and communications) team and received his first big bit of attention for helping create Apple’s product boxes: an area that Apple has always prized highly because of its significance in the user experience.

One of Dye’s ideas was to hand-paint the corners of every single iPhone box (this in the days when the boxes were black) to ensure that they shipped without scuff-marks. That kind of attention to detail helps get you noticed at Apple, and Dye was rapidly promoted to chief of the human interface group.

Ive and Dye started working more closely than ever when Ive brought in the idea of the Apple Watch shortly after Steve Jobs’ death in 2011. At the time, Dye was working on iOS 7 with a small group of other Apple employees.

He played a key role in the development of both OS X Yosemite and the Apple Watch interface. According to Jony Ive, Dye has “a genius for human interface design. So much of the Apple Watch’s operating system came from him.”

Outside of Apple, Dye’s upwards momentum has been evidenced by the number of times he pops up in Apple-sanctioned stories. Apple fiercely controls the narrative of its behind-the-scenes processes, and rarely is a person made accessible for comment unless Apple explicitly wants them to be part of the official story going forward.

Recently Dye was made available for interview for both the New Yorker and Wired articles concerning the development of the Apple Watch. At this point it was obvious that he was being groomed for bigger things.

In Wired, Dye was described as “much more Burberry than BlackBerry: With his hair swept deliberately to the left and a Japanese pen clipped to the inside of his gingham shirt just so, he’s clearly not leaving any details to chance.”

For the New Yorker story — predominantly about Jony Ive — the following interaction with Dye was described, which emphasizes the Apple approach to simplicity of design:

“I spoke to Dye at a table by the lawn at Infinite Loop. He had brought a sketchbook, and he opened it to a page where he’d drawn simple outlines: shuttlecock, light bulb, thundercloud, tree. He had been imagining possible elements in a vocabulary of doodled messages for the Apple Watch.”

Dye won’t take over officially as VP User Interface Design until July, by which time we’ll have more information about the implications of Ive’s new role within Apple.

Ive famously tussled with Scott Forstall, the man in charge of iOS’s look and feel before him. Now Ive has installed a person who sounds very similar to himself: a seemingly ego-free person with a design background, upmarket designer tastes, and a perfectionist streak.

Ive previously described Dye as “amiable” — but we prefer “Ive-like.”

And, really, if he works out half as well as Ive has, Apple and its customers will have nothing to complain about.

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