Design a la Steve Jobs


Today I saw an article interviewing John Sculley, former CEO of Apple.  He spoke about the early days of Apple, Steve Jobs, and a lot about, Design.  I loved many of the things he said.   Here are some excerpts:

Steve, from the moment I met him, always loved beautiful products, especially hardware. He came to my house, and he was fascinated, because I had special hinges and locks designed for doors. I had studied as an industrial designer, and the thing that connected Steve and me was industrial design. It wasn’t computing.

Steve had this perspective that always started with the user’s experience; and that industrial design was an incredibly important part of that user impression. He recruited me to Apple because he believed the computer was eventually going to become a consumer product. That was an outrageous idea back in the early 1980s. He felt the computer was going to change the world, and it was going to become what he called “the bicycle for the mind.”

What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do. He’s a minimalist. I remember going into Steve’s house, and he had almost no furniture in it. He just had a picture of Einstein, whom he admired greatly, and he had a Tiffany lamp and a chair and a bed. He just didn’t believe in having lots of things around, but he was incredibly careful in what he selected.

(I also don’t have a lot of furniture.  I call it “the maximum in the minimalism”. )

Isn’t Nike a good analogy?

Yeah, probably, Nike (NYSE: NKE – News) is closer. The one Steve admired was Sony (NYSE: SNE, News). We used to go visit Akio Morita, and he had really the same kind of high-end standards that Steve did and respect for beautiful products. I remember Akio Morita gave Steve and me each one of the first Sony Walkmans. None of us had ever seen anything like that before, because there had never been a product like that. This is 25 years ago, and Steve was fascinated by it. The first thing he did with his was take it apart, and he looked at every single part. How the fit and finish was done, how it was built.

(Coincidentally, I just read another story today that the Sony will stop selling the Walkman after 30 years.   I read Sony CEO Akio Morita’s book “Made In Japan” while still in university.  It made a big impression on me. )

The Japanese always started with the market share of components first. So one would dominate, let’s say, sensors, and someone else would dominate memory, and someone else hard drives and things of that sort. They would then build up their market strengths with components, and then they would work toward the final product. That was fine with analog electronics, where you are trying to focus on cost reduction — and whoever controlled the key component costs was at an advantage. It didn’t work at all for digital electronics, because you’re starting at the wrong end of the value chain. You are not starting with the components. You are starting with the user experience.

And you can see today the tremendous problem Sony has had for at least the last 15 years as the digital consumer-electronics industry has emerged. They have been totally stovepiped in their organization. Sony should have had the iPod, but they didn’t — it was Apple. The iPod is a perfect example of Steve’s methodology of starting with the user and looking at the entire end-to-end system.

Steve said, “If I asked someone who had only used a personal calculator what a Macintosh should be like, they couldn’t have told me. There was no way to do consumer research on it, so I had to go and create it, and then show it to people, and say now what do you think?”

An anecdotal story: A friend of mine was at meetings at Apple and Microsoft on the same day. And this was in the last year, so this was recently. He went into the Apple meeting (he’s a vendor for Apple), and as soon as the designers walked in the room, everyone stopped talking, because the designers are the most respected people in the organization. Everyone knows the designers speak for Steve because they have direct reporting to him. It is only at Apple where design reports directly to the CEO.

Later in the day he was at Microsoft. When he went into the Microsoft meeting, everybody was talking and then the meeting starts and no designers ever walk into the room. All the technical people are sitting there trying to add their ideas of what ought to be in the design. That’s a recipe for disaster.

(Don’t you wish the DB/data architects had the same position and respect!? )

Steve’s a minimalist and constantly reducing things to their simplest level. It’s not simplistic. It’s simplified. Steve is a systems designer. He simplifies complexity.

If you are someone who doesn’t care about it, you end up with simplistic results. It’s amazing to me how many companies make that mistake. Take the Microsoft Zune. I remember going to [the Consumer Electronics Show] when Microsoft launched Zune, and it was literally so boring that people didn’t even go over to look at it. The Zunes were just dead. It was like someone had just put aging vegetables into a supermarket. Nobody wanted to go near it. I’m sure they were very bright people, but it’s just built from a different philosophy. The legendary statement about Microsoft, which is mostly true, is that they get it right the third time. Microsoft’s philosophy is to get it out there and fix it later. Steve would never do that. He doesn’t get anything out there until it is perfected.

Cool ideas!  I really resonate with a lot of them.

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