Steven Paul Jobs: Passing Shots
October 28th, 2011
I was walking down Broadway with a group of 5,000 or so other New Yorkers on our way to join the OWS occupation in Zuccotti Park on October 5, when word of Steven Paul Jobs passing reached me in a buzz of verbal outburst and SMS smartphone vibration. Of course, it was not unexpected to Apple watchers, which I suspect many of those in the crowd were to some extent, these teachers, writers, communication, film and media union workers. The crowd was largely the first generation of the consumers and users of technology produced out of the entrepreneurship and innovation of Steve Jobs.
There is no difficulty in understanding the status of this American icon. For many, Jobs embodied the most lauded of American myths: the hardworking, dedicated, innovative, self-made individual. And, there’s more: he changed peoples’ lives.
Jobs is a luminous figure imbued with qualities that are extremely compelling to many people around the world, not just Americans. He also died with his coached and approved biography ready for publication, with Apple vindictively pursuing patent suits and hounding leakers; with personal worth in excess of $2 billion; and no public record of philanthropy.
These observations are not pointing toward deprecation of Jobs’ accomplishments or to minimize his significant contribution to our society in some important ways. But the mythic may overwhelm and obscure the factual and core nature of what we can think of Jobs representing. Jobs’ most influential accomplishments largely unaddressed in many posts may be:
1) He made a major contribution to industrial design and the UX (user experience) of machines.
2) He made significant contributions to strategic marketing practice and the power of The Brand.
According to many observers over the years, Jobs was notoriously obsessed with design and style. He contributed directly to the design process and is associated with over 200 design-specific features of Apple product. Interesting note: One of his patents is for the glass staircase design in the Apple retail stores. He was referred to as the “ultimate tester” and signed off on every product and accessory coming out of Apple. His vision of the pre-eminence of industrial design as a core part of the business proposition was reflected in his founding of the Apple Industrial Design Group (IDG) in 1977.
Jobs, himself, did not design everything, but he hired top designers to lead that dimension of his business. Some of the designers have become icons in their own right, like Jonathan Ive, but others preceded him and deserve identification.
Over the years, Apple with and without Jobs as CEO developed, manufactured and distributed some of the most elegantly designed and user-centered tech products, starting with innovative PCs to the most recent iPads. These are not just refined objects that might find their way into the MOMA or Cooper-Hewitt design collections. These are visually and physically effective and usable. These devices have incorporated and even elevated the key principles of user-centered design and standards-setting levels of user experience.
The integral relationship between this prioritized orientation to the industrial and experience design has characterized Apple under the influence of Steve Jobs. But what stands out too, is how well this fundamental valuation of aesthetics and usability contributes to the marketability of these products AS design and style, not just tech products that DO things. Jobs was demonstrably interested in how people felt about the use of the things his company produced. Thus, his products had the signal features of both being well designed functionally and experientially. This allows us to think of Jobs, not just as a successful, billionaire businessman, but someone who contributed to improving the quality of life (for those who could afford his goods).
This does of course still lead us back to our gathering at Zuccotti Park where we ponder questions about how much wealth should anyone (or one percent) possess or control, and what social good is produced out of the activity of amassing that wealth.
As a coda, I would add (from another SJ blog post):
He had taste.
He was curious.
He was patient.
He was foolish.
He was hungry.
These things many others can do. Maybe you can.
Maybe you can, but do you wish to do so Steve Job’s way?
Maybe you’d like to consider other models, like Dennis Ritchie.
Upcoming Blog: “Passing Shots 2: Steve Jobs versus Dennis Ritchie”