An alumnus of Apple designer Jonathan Ive’s old firm will be the new leader of Samsung’s global design team, TechCrunch reports. Korean designer Lee Don-tae arrives at the company from Tangerine, the design studio Ive helped found in 1989. Tangerine has won numerous awards while working with some of the biggest companies in the world.
Lee, who grew up in a rural Korean village without electricity, was part of the design team that reimagined British Airways’ business class cabin, a move that helped increase the airline’s profits by $738 million. (Tangerine won the Interior Design Excellence Awards’ Grand Prix for the project in 2001.) Lee has also designed sustainable projects like solar-powered street lights and electric car charging stations. He was serving as Tangerine’s co-president up until this move, as well as working as a professor of industrial design at Hongik University. Between 2006 and 2012, Lee worked on projects with Samsung as a Design Master.
Over the years, Samsung has had a fraught, inconsistent relationship to design, and has even been accused of copying Apple’s work. Last year, Samsung took heat for designs like the Galaxy S5, an overly complex phone critics called “cheap and creaky.” Afterward, Samsung’s head of mobile design, Chang Dong-hoon, stepped down, and now works leading the company’s general design strategy team.
During the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, Samsung announced a long-term partnership with Silicon Valley design star Yves Béhar, a hopeful sign of the company’s design aspirations, but confined Béhar to its TV division–an area with limited opportunities to innovate and a disappointing waste of the designer’s considerable talents.
Samsung has felt the pain of these, and other, missteps. The Galaxy S5 sold 40% short of predictions, and last year, Samsung’s overall profit dropped 37% for the holiday quarter, according to Business Insider.
In light of these problems, the decision to hire Lee suggests that Samsung is not only starting to take design more seriously, but actually making good decisions in that regard. We’ll keep a lookout for Lee’s imprint on future designs from the company.