Design Matters

The story of Steve Jobs and Apple is more complicated than most news outlets would lead you to believe, and there were plenty of great minds that led to the original Mac and that contributed to all that followed.

But anyone who thinks that Jobs’ contributions to society can somehow be reduced to “marketing” or “fashion” betrays a complete ignorance of the power and importance of great design.

Great design can and does change the world. Poor design can and does ruin lives.

To Steve Jobs, and to everyone trying every day to put their own dent in the universe, thank you.

Discussion (21)¬

  1. Roland says:

    Great point, Scott. One more thing… I might want to add: Steve and his team followed a consequent line of providing a functional, ergonomic user experience. It is often underestimated how much work goes into making something easy to understand, easy to use, logic and still nice enough to make the use enjoyable. Isn’t that something we know from story telling too? 🙂


    PS: I learned so much from your excellent books, Scott. I’m very grateful for that too.

  2. Will Hopkins says:

    Well said. Behind all of his work, Steve Jobs always had a guiding, coherent vision that made it great. It’s easy to forget that vision is just as important in achieving great things as is skill and luck, but Steve reminded us.

  3. ben says:

    I once read a book called THE USER ILLUSION mainly about the nature of Conciousness. One of its main concepts was how much the information (or lack thereof) our senses are presented with affects our ability to even FORM direct logical judgements. Thats one way your books remind me of Apple’s products. Design. Negative space. What you don’t see is just as important. Steve Jobs will be missed.

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  5. Bill Gathen says:

    He may not have written the code or built the boxes that inform so much of our lives, but he was a lightning rod. He attracted people who wanted to change the world and shooed away those who were afraid of the thunder.

    A life well lived. May we all aspire to as much.

  6. Travis says:

    First of all , love your work, Scott, in many ways is amazing. But this time I am absolutely in disagreement with you. Good design ALSO ruins life: you can ask to all the manufacturer in the third world that ensambles the apple products. They live like animals and when you spend some money in ONE Iphone, taht is the same value of ONE YEAR OF SALARY of that people. The china manufacturer of Iphone and Ipad have the most high rates of suicides for the work condition. All this for release in time a nice device. I not invented that, anyone can search information in the web of in affidable sites. Yes, really good design for a FEW, but ruined life of MANY. I respect you a lot, Scott, but in this one Iam desagree.

    • Oluseyi says:

      Travis, correlation is NOT causation. Just because two things happen in close proximity to each other, or grow at the same time does not mean that one causes the other. Further, you’re conflating design with manufacturing with outsourcing with wage variation and a whole mess of political and socioeconomic factors – all while missing the KEY factor:


      It’s not design that kills people, it’s greed. The greed that causes a factory owner to skip on humane working conditions so he can eke out more profit; to bully and pressure workers into longer hours so he can pay fewer people, so he can eke out more profit; the greed that causes every aspect of the workers’ lives to be oriented around the company, so it can eke out more profit…

      Good design doesn’t ruin lives. Greed ruins lives.

      • Travis says:

        This kind of design is closely related with the economical mass production. And this is another factor that Jobs put in his equation.
        Those Jobs design are IMPOSSIBLY to apply in reality if you don’t have an economical system like the capitalism of today. All is politics and economy. Its a sin and dangerous isolated the design of the context. The history teaches that. (for not talk about the economical failures that have USA at the moment, its not casual that the big part of the manufacturer of apple are in the third world ) I don’t want rest values to the guy, but we must see the whole view.
        You put to Steve Jobs, like an innocent man that don’t knows that for produce his beautiful design thousand and thousands of pepole should be are a bad life, c’mon!. The pyramid of Egypt are beautiful designed, but millions of slaves are death because. I mean, in some cases, the god design can kill people. Its not only the greed. “The greed that causes a factory owner to skip on human working conditions” you reduce the problem in a very small scale. Apple and the modern capitalism ARE the owner of the company. Its not enough have “good” ideas, Jobs himself was his best product. And his gadgets are born inside an a system of production because are products, not art. The nice Job design say a lot of a way of life. Be cool, Be success,Be special its an whole filosofy behind and its related with his system of production, his matrix.

        And for the design in general, You can design very well, and beautifully arrangement a BOMB. Many weapons have a “great” design, very comfortably and fully operable with a lot of advantage upon others “bad weapons designs”…
        sorry for my bad English and sorry if I sound a bit out about this, its only my opinion and don’t want to convince anyone, only explain a different point of view.

    • Allan Olley says:

      Sadly the working conditions of export industries in the developing world are horrible but even more horrible were preexisting alternatives like labour intensive farming and domestic manufacturing. A blanket condemnation ignores all the complexities of motivation, alternatives (or the lack), benefit and loss for all parties.

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  8. Travis says:

    In others words, Olusey, maybe Steve don’t have “greed” but for any kind f reason (maybe messianic o whatever) he want to “change” the world with his design, improve the world, change the modern northamerican way of life and for him the The end justifies the means …my big question is: all that “improvement in life, AT WHAT COST? the answer for the people that values the nice design over all, should be: who cares?

    • Scott says:

      Actually, when I said “more complicated,” I was including the many social and political issues dogging any multinational company, some of which you’ve mentioned here. It’s not my intention to dismiss any of those.

      But this is why I focused instead on the power of an underlying principle of the things we make. The design of modern operating systems has empowered nearly all of the very same people who fight such abuses all over the world; the reporters, filmakers, self-publishers, advocates, citizen twitterers, cellphone photorebels… ALL of whom now see technology as an integral part of their public voice.

      Maybe Apple’s biggest contribution was empowering people to more effectively protest companies LIKE Apple. But the value of design IN AND OF ITSELF was all I was trying to get across.

    • Scott says:

      That said, the assertion that “good design can also ruin lives” is irrefutably true, and I appreciate the reminder.

      • Travis says:

        Understand better your point of view. The issue of Apple is long complicated to discuss here, but thanks for take time for clarify your opinion, catch better your point.
        And that said, LOVE your work, man. Until today I remember when I read for the first time “Understanding”, (in my youth,many years ago, ouch 🙂 ) and was an amazing xperience. Thanks for that book.

  9. Mark says:

    Rob Pike, perhaps most familiar to this audience as Renee French’s husband,
    but also an accomplished programmer and designer in his own right, recently
    had this to say on user interfaces: http://commandcenter.blogspot.com/2011/09/we-open-in-well-lit-corporate.html

    If this is a good time to reflect on design and technology, perhaps it is also
    a good time to reflect on the distintion between ease of use and utility, to
    envision the as yet untapped potential that computers offer us and how we
    might best realize it.

  10. Allan Olley says:

    While good design is clearly a huge part of Apple’s success, surely marketing and fashion are also hugely important. Words like design, fashion and marketing cover broad and overlapping areas. The best designed computer in the world does not sell itself (if it does then that would be marketing) and is useless if the people who would benefit from it have no idea it exists, marketing is key to making anything useful. At a certain level of user interaction with a device its look and feel (fashion), the aesthetic is inseparable from its form and function, ease of use and intuitive use depend on a positive attitude from the user, a literally ugly interface lacks something in design (although not as much as a figuratively ugly one).

    Technology often gives us what we want but getting what we want is not always a good thing.

  11. john connor says:

    3 lives 2ha2 enslave humani2y.

    1. Money is in fac2 wor2hless.
    2. No god, none, ever. We are animals no2 humans.
    3. Your life is no2 impor2an2, u will die an animal.

  12. Laroquod says:

    On balance, Steve Jobs changed the world for the better, there is no reasonable doubt. I have used his computers (at least, the ones where freedom is practised as befits a democracy) for as long as I can remember. Let’s not thus elevate every philosophy he ever espoused, however, to some bulletproof level where a defence is not required, because the history of the digital dawn is not yet written and his views of how to manage the public square (particularly the artistic commons) on Apple’s mobile devices may not turn out to be a winning idea for the health of dissent and the continued greater empowerment of the people in our democracy.

    Steve’s was a sharp, prescient vision but it was not (and still isn’t) a vision to hold freedom of speech in any great regard, and for that, I am as saddened as by his death.

  13. Jake says:

    And anyone who thinks that Apple’s products were popular because they were just that awesome betrays a complete ignorance of the power and importance of capital, symbolic and otherwise.

    Alright WHO’S NEXT?!!! I’ll fight any strawman who comes at me!!

    • Scott says:

      In case the strawman accusation was leveled at me, I just want to point out that plenty of people I’ve heard talk about Apple over the years have done exactly what I’ve described. I don’t think I was overstating it.

      If you asked in a survey (a year ago, say) if Apple’s success was overwhelmingly due to marketing and fashion, I’ll bet the “yes” votes would come in at around 30%. It’s a real attitude, not just some imagined slight.