Wednesday, October 19, 2011

iBeauty - Steve Jobs and Design

I was inspired to focus this post on Design by Ross Douthat's recent NY Times essay about Steve Jobs. Douthat's tribute, among those I saw and read, was the only one to mark out Jobs for his contribution to Design - while he was, of course, also reinventing our entire lives. The article points out Job's "eye for grace and style, and his recognition of the deep connection between beauty and civilization." There it is - the crucial factor that is so easily overlooked. We live better, think better, and create more positive versions of ourselves when we recognize that beauty is essential to our lives. Jobs himself said of design, “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” 
Jobs held 317 patents for Apple products. They range across categories: computers, mice, monitors, but also the staircase in Apple stores and a clasp for a pair of cords. An interactive timeline from the NYTimes gives the idea (click on the link at the end of the post) Not all are 'beautiful' but you can see how he moves over the years from the first typewriter with a tv and a box (1977) towards sleek, graceful forms that have an inevitable relation to function. They work - astonishingly so at times - and, especially from the last 10 years or so, the designs are truly beautiful. A user interacting with an iPhone is beauty in action - form and function in harmony, with an extra measure of very cool pleasure. There are some Jobs products that didn't make it but now they don't count because no one remembers them. The rule of good product design can be defined as 'looks good' 'works well' and 'sells well' - if all three aren't there, the product won't survive. The blog Architecture + Morality puts forth this tenet in a post about design: 'most people believe that good ideas should continue, while bad ones should be laid to rest. Usually the market filters out the real stinkers.." 
Steve Jobs is listed as 'artist' in the database of the Museum of Modern Art: a number of his designs (some in collaboration with others) figure in the permanent collection. His true nature, as characterized in one of many tributes, was that of Leonardo da Vinci, rather than the more straightforward genius of Einstein. Like da Vinci, the metaphorical box was for other people - Jobs was always out beyond, dreaming up what was going next INTO that box with the immortal logo. 
Here are a few examples of contemporary product design. What do you think - which of them will survive? (Dropp! bowl made of silicone, toilet and bidet by Laufen, Standing Kitchen tools by Head Chef)
Ross Douthat's article
Interactive Apple timeline