Steve Jobs, designer

I’ve long held the belief that you should not idolize people. Being inspired by people is a lot more productive, whereas simply putting people on a pedestal and admiring them from afar accomplishes little more than replacing your ideas with theirs.

That’s why there is so much more value in understanding what Steve Jobs did, rather than idolizing him as an über-genius. I think Jobs died with a clear conscience, I believe he’s made his mark and was able to go into the great unknown able to say “my work will go on”.

To me, Steve Jobs was a designer.

He was a great businessman, for sure, but his thought was design thought and that, to me, was central to the evolution he brought to the world of personal electronics. And that evolution I see summed up in one product: the iPod.

I believe the iPod is the single most important product in Apple’s line-up under Jobs. It is the DNA of the new Apple. It could be the iMac, but that was just a computer in a good looking case. Sure, it made people show off their machines, rather than wanting to hide them in a cabinet, but the iPod did so much more.

An iPod was incredibly simple and spartan. It never offered all the features (top of the line, modern iPods still don’t allow you to manage music directly and have no removable media, for exemple), it was compact, it was sleek and looked like a luxury product. Even the box it came in, was a pleasure to open and you felt like you should keep it on display.

People wanted to have an iPod and when they did, they loved it. It worked all the time, it was dead easy to learn how to use, you did not have to RTFM and it had character with its Stormtrooper-white casing.

This is why I think design, not technology, is central to Apple. The technology is really important to the product development and to make sure it’s high quality, stable, innovative and reliable but it matters almost nothing to the user. To the user, the important thing is the experience: you take something out of a box, which looks great, feels like it belongs in your hand and works when you turn it on.

This is why most iPhone users don’t care or won’t know what processor speed or how much RAM is in their phones, this is why most of them will shrug when someone points out that some other phone’s camera has a lot more megapixels and just say “yeah, but I prefer my iPhone”. People are in love with the experience of the iPhone, the iPad, the iPod… not the specs.

This is Steve’s most important legacy: make products you want to use. Products that do things you’ll want to do. Products that look beautiful and feel great in your hands and are easy to use. Focus on the people, not the technology.

Don’t start from the hardware, don’t pile up the features. Start with you: what do you want? What do the people around you want, or might like? It’s not the “we have this, what do we do with it” mentality, it’s the “I want to accomplish this, how do I go about getting it?” mentality. It’s design.

In 1997, Apple launched its “Think Different” campaign. In my recent post about understanding design in day to day work, I mentioned this slogan. It’s interesting my immediate following post would mention it again. But I mention it once more for the same reason, because I want to reiterate: Goodbye and farewell, Steve Jobs, one of the greatest designers of our time, I leave you with the full text of the “Think Different” campaign posters:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”