Steve Jobs: design hero

Steve Jobs is not dead, as of this writing. He has resigned as Apple CEO but still serves as Chairman of the Board. He remains a larger-than-life figure that symbolizes, embodies, and exemplifies the “design-driven executive”. And he’s my design hero. I’m guessing for other designers as well, though some may not want to admit it publicly since he’s such a non-UCD rule-breaker, and game-changer. (sorry, I had to say it ;-)

This is not a eulogy but a declaration to aspire.

Steve has proven that we can dream bold beautiful visions of a humanistic yet technologically ambitious future, and make it happen…with amazing profits. It’s what almost every designer strives to achieve, and he has done it–many times over.

He has proven it can be done, with not only superb, almost maddeningly obsessive design craftsmanship, but also brilliant (perhaps brutal) business savvy, generating billions of enviable dollars. Vividly gorgeous products and interfaces that can deliver the cash results Wall Street demands…nope, it’s not just lipstick. And any sucker who thinks it is, simply doesn’t get it. Steve Jobs, maybe more than anyone, has truly achieved the “integrative aesthetic experience”, as philosopher John Dewey described it, successfully. It can be done.

He has transformed how people regard design as something that positively shapes lifestyle and behavior, ushering novel eras of information, entertainment, communication, and yes even enterprise data, from the original Mac to iPod to iPhone to iPad. It can be done.

He has proven that designing the future doesn’t have to be some 20% “innovation exercise” shelved due to some ornery process or lack of user data, but can be an aggressively optimistic posture of making a “dent in the universe”…practically re-conceiving our lives, impacting literally decades and generations. Babies in strollers along University Avenue in Palo Alto today may never know what a keyboard or mouse is, because Steve dared to challenge longstanding assumptions and demand a better intuitive way. He proved it can be done…meaningfully and beautifully.

For every designer who seeks a powerful, luminous vision of a better tomorrow, with beautiful style and elegant functionality, Steve Jobs as Apple CEO has proven it can be done. There is hope: he has educated a few generations now, delivered fabulous examples (both good and bad–remember the G4 Cube or MobileMe?), ushered a forward way of thinking about technology that’s fresh, simplified, elegant, and enriches our lives. He has made computers “magical” and objects of desire. He has elevated our expectations to new heights when it comes to “hi-tech design”, as a tastemaker, a trend-setter, a businessman, a visionary and…a design leader. He has proven it can be done, successfully.

I often talk about how design can’t be “proven”, but rather a “demonstration” for a context–an admittedly academic subtlety ;-) But Steve Jobs has proven that a technology company executive, through the phenomenal force of their charisma, vision, and smarts can champion good design values, produce well-crafted products, and deliver stellar financial results. And millions of people, from schools to hospitals to banks, have reaped the benefits. He has proven that visionary design works.

That’s why Steve Jobs is my design hero. This is not a eulogy but a declaration to aspire. Let us all as designers strive to be so bold, so daring, so crazy, so vivid, so innovative to pursue a profoundly better way…and prove it can be done. After all, as Steve said, “only real artists ship”. So, thank you Steve for proving it can be done. Now it’s time for us to take that lesson to heart and make amazing happen.

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