Back when I was an entrepreneur, I had a hero named Steve Jobs. He founded and ran an amazingly successful company. He produced new markets out of thin air. But he was more than just a savvy businessman. He was an artist. A creator. I used to read a lot of books about management and business, and my favorites were the ones about Apple, and the way Jobs turned his unerring aesthetic sense into an empire, a worldwide phenomenon, and a whole new way of living with technology. He had an instinctive understanding of the importance of design, which he honed to sophisticated perfection. His distinctive stamp marked every product graced with the Apple logo. Instead of customers, he had lifetime fanatics.
Fortunately, when we hired a designer for our company, he idolized Jobs as much as I did. We were both in raptures the day he showed me our new “X” logo, over which he’d laid the exact same bevel and sheen as Apple’s latest updated logo.
As Tony and I tried to shape and grow a struggling young company, I gobbled up everything I could read about Jobs. One book described him examining the look and feel of expensive corporate stationery from Xerox, and running his fingers over the expensive cars in the parking lot, trying to figure out what were all the subtle but crucial details that differentiated a BMW from just a car. That obsessive attention to aesthetic detail was a significant component of his genius; the idea that design matters, not superficially, but as part of the essence of things. Jobs had a poet’s sense that form and function are ultimately inseparable. He imagined people touching and holding and living with his creations, not just using them.
And we do, and we love the experience he’s created for us. I’m typing this on my much-beloved MacBook Pro, which has been plugged into all different shapes of outlets, had several keys pulled off by children and painstakingly put back on by me, been dropped on carpet, tile and dirt, and still runs like a dream after four years of (ab)use. Sometimes, I admit, I take it for granted. But I can’t sit down at a PC without feeling the shock of clunky, thoughtless, even downright ugly design, and marveling anew at the cool, elegant artistry of every tiny detail of Apple’s hardware, and software.
In an interview with BusinessWeek thirteen years ago, Jobs remarked, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” From the ipod to the iphone to the ipad and beyond, we’ve got a pretty good idea now of what we want. Because Steve Jobs has been showing us all along. Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs. You will be missed.