Monday, December 19, 2011


During the past few weeks, every time I’ve had to use yet another badly-designed appliance, or had to sit idling at yet another ineptly-timed traffic light, or had to decipher yet another garbled set of instructions, I’ve thought of one man: Steven Jobs. And I wish there could’ve been a hundred more like him.

There’s no doubt that, with Jobs’s passing, the world has lost one of the most important visionaries of the last hundred years. But for me, the loss has less to do with his putting a computer for the rest of us on a million desktops, nor with his uncanny knack for creating things that people didn’t even know they needed. Granted, these accomplishments are vastly important to Jobs’s legacy. But to my mind, his ultimate triumph was his singular skill at persuading a largely indifferent public that excellent design really matters. He wanted us all to be as passionate about beauty and simplicity as he himself was. And to the extent that Apple’s famously intuitive and user-friendly products are now more popular than ever, he seems finally to have succeeded.

The fact is that the average American consumer has been amazingly tolerant of third-rate product design. Consequently--and understandably--any company that knows it can make perfectly good money selling clumsy, overcomplicated, or unintuitive products has no incentive whatever to improve them. And so most don’t. 

In Jobs, however, we had the unique case of a businessman on a near-religious crusade to educate his own market, relentlessly challenging us to demand more than the run-of-the-mill crap we’re typically offered. 

It’s interesting to note that the Apple cofounder, despite being a pioneer in one of the most technically complex fields yet known to man, was not an engineer but rather a laid-back college dropout with a mystical streak. To add yet another layer of paradox to this singular mind, he was notoriously--some would say tyrannically--demanding of the people who worked for him. But if this is what it took to engender the phenomenally beautiful and beautifully functional objects Apple has created out over the years, then it was all worth it.

As you’ve probably guessed, I write on a Macintosh, and have done since I bought the very first model through an Apple engineer pal back in 1984. So yes, kids--I’ve been a true believer since long before the iPod, iPad, or iPhone even existed. And for many of those years, I tried in vain to convince doubters why there was nothing like using a Mac--in short, why good design really mattered. Thankfully, with the wild success of those assorted i-Things, Jobs was finally able to make that case for me. 

Steve Jobs had already revolutionized the fields of computing, film, music, and telephonics. I wish he’d been given the time for even more far-flung conquests, because I have no doubt that the world would have been a better place for it.

We could have used a hundred more like him, but alas, there was only one.

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