Design Different

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Heller; Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA design program.

Steve Jobs's true genius was in design--from phones to retail, he reshaped our world with a look that was cool, clean, and friendly.

When it came to design, Steve Jobs lived Apple's "Think Different" mantra. Many major corporations use design to benefit their bottom lines, but Apple's entire ethos was design. And it was hardwired in Jobs. Even when he was heading NeXT, the educational-computer company he founded, product and graphic design drove his strategy. He went so far as to get special dispensation from IBM to commission the NeXT logo from Paul Rand, designer of the IBM, ABC, and Westinghouse logos. When Jobs returned to Apple, he took its design to new levels, profoundly influencing the look of 21st-century computer technology.

Apple products became designers' best friends, forever altering the practice of everything from graphic design to architecture by placing production power in the hands of creators. Jobs realized that creative people were not simply his primary customers, they were the willing propagandists of the brand. He so keenly understood his end users, and treated them with respect, that they went forth and exponentially multiplied.

Jobs integrated a range of designers into all aspects of the company--from hard- to software, from product to package, from corporate identity to advertising. He found roles for graphic, industrial, interior, and user-experience designers. But not as stylists. Jobs never slavishly reacted to the market's fickle whims or wants; he accepted that his role was to educate people to the potential of personal technology and enhance their appreciation of design. He used design to alter behavior and consequently altered his users' behavior through innovative design.

Unlike many other tech companies, design was the engine in Jobs's world. Designers were not injected as foreign organisms into the middle or end of the conceptual and engineering process, after the engineers and marketers did the meaningful work. Rather, designers were involved at the outset as equal creative partners. Form did not follow function; it was an integral part of the functional calculus. …