Steve Jobs: Contributions to Design

Much has been said and written about Steve Jobs, particularly after his death. I haven't said much until now because it affected me rather deeply and I also wanted to reflect more comprehensively about his contributions. I have had a professional and personal interest in Steve Jobs and Apple for years. As a result, I was pretty well aware of most things that had been written on the subject which wasn't an awful lot due to Steve and in turn Apple's famous position on privacy and secrecy. However, all that changed with the publication of Walter Isaacson's authorized biography titled simply "Steve Jobs". Having read Issacson's book as soon as it came out filled in the many gaps in our understanding of the man and the company. The book chronicled the brilliant and the bizarre aspects of Steve Jobs. It also helped bring into focus and further hone my perceptions of his contributions more generally as well as his contributions to design in particular.  

First of all, Steve wasn't a designer. He was a visionary, a dreamer, a big picture thinker while at the same time being arrogant, passionate, and a fanatic about attention to detail. That's quite a combination, and one that is very rare. He would come up with brilliant new ideas, new combinations of old ideas, and old ideas made new again by doing them right. He had an eye for design and an eye for design talent. He inspired, promoted, enabled, challenged, and elevated designers and the role for design within an engineering company. After looking for design talent externally when he returned to Apple, Jobs discovered that he had an amazing designer inside the company, Jonathan Yve, typically referred to as Jony Yve. Steve promoted Jony to the position of Senior Vice President of Industrial Design and had him report directly to him. It is Jony and his team of industrial and user interface designers who are actually behind the design brilliance of Apple. 

There are many very talented designers at many companies. Those companies have produced products that those designers knew weren't the best that they could possibly be. Those designers had to compromise their designs given a variety of common constraints such as time, money, and engineering. What those designers lacked was a design champion like Steve Jobs. A design champion who would generate ideas for the designers to explore, challenge the designers to do their absolute best design work, challenge the engineers to implement designs that seemed technically impossible, drive for perfection in the design and the implementation in the product at all cost literally, and would only deliver a product when it was "insanely great". His evangelism for design permeated outside the company too into his famous product launch performances during which he expounded on the design nuances of the product.

Steve Jobs raised the bar for design at Apple and showed that an engineering company can meet that high bar. He showed that great designers can be insanely great and produce industry transforming products when inspired, championed, challenged, supported, and rewarded. Steve also, in turn, provided a lesson for all other companies who want to achieve what Apple has achieved. I think Steve's legacy will not solely be what he did at Apple but what insight he provided to all others who in turn could learn from his example and could well improve the design of everything we see and touch. Thanks Steve.