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Review of Steve Jobs’ Biography January 9, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovation process, jobs, methods, physical interaction design.
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Over the holiday I had the chance to read the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I really enjoyed the reading, especially as I have been influenced by Jobs’ work very early on. I also enjoyed the description of the Californian culture as lived by Steve Jobs, being barfood, trying weird diets and networking with the most interesting people in the Bay Area, as e.g. Steward Brand, who was a huge influence for me as well.

Here a couple of observations/inspirations I am taking from reading this book:

Tools vs. Results:

The first mission of Pixar was to develop and sell high-end grafic hardware and software. The first product was called the Pixar Image Computer:


(Pixar Image Computer, image source)

This computer was price at 150.000 $ and targeted towards professionals in the grafic design industry, but also for specialized applications as computer tomografie.

Jobs vision was to make this product accessible to masses – at a price of 30.000 $.

Same was true with the Pixar’s rendering software called Reyes (“Render Everything You Ever Saw”): Steve Jobs was planning to make this software also available to the mass market.

But with both ideas he failed. However, Pixar had a small department desiging animations to show off the power of the Pixar hardware and software. One of these films was Luxo Jr., which was first shown at an adacemic conference (!), at Siggraph 1986:

When all the hardware and software projects at Pixar  failed, Jobs had to fire most of the people. Interestingly, it was the small creative deparment, which not only made Pixar survive, but turned the company into a huge success.

The question of selling tools or the results of the tools is quite an old one: Raymond Scott and Bob Moog were both involved in the invention of the synthesizer. However, Scott saw himself as a composer and therefore wanted to keep his tools as secret as possible:

Electronic music for commercials and films was my living then – and I thought I had this great advantage – because of my sequencer. (source: unaddressed letter written by Raymond Scott, late 1970s)

Moog on the other side started to build and sell products – and his company is still around today!

Computer as Bicycle

When Jobs took over the Mac-development form Raskin, he also wanted to get rid of Raskin’s suggested working titel “Macintosh” – named after Raskin’s favorite apple.

So, Steve Jobs suggested “Bicycle”, because the computer is kind of the bicycle for our minds:

I really like this metaphor, especially as riding a bicycle is a strong image I am using when talking about Physical Interaction Design. In the important paper “How Bodies Matter: Five Themes for Interaction Design” (2006), Scott Klemmer et al. use the bicycle to talk about how the WIMP-interface is not taking advantage of our ability for “motor memory”. They suggest: “Assigning dedicated actions to different functions of a user interface can take better advantage of kinesthetic memory.”.
I always get a laugh when asking the audience to imaging to ride a bycicly by using drop-down-menues…

Market Research and Prototypes

Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?
– Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is talking here about quantitative research, because when you look into his process it becomes clear that he did a lot of what we call qualitative research:

For example when developing the Apple Stores, Steve Jobs set up a steady changing prototype of a store in an empty warehouse in Cupertino. And he forced a lot of people to come over and give feedback. Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, is quoted to have said: “He was obsessed by every detail of the aesthetic and the service experience. It got to the point where I said, ‘Steve I’m not coming to see you if you’re going to make me go to the store again.’”

Jobs really like prototypes and their were basis of his discussions with Jonathan Ive and other product developers and managers – as Ive describes it:

This great room [main room in the Apple design center with six long steel tables for displaying and playing with works in progress] is the one place in the company where you can look around and see everything we have in the works. When Steve comes in, he will sit at one of these tables. If we’re working on a new iPhone, for example, he might grab a stool and start playing with different models and feeling them in his hands, remarking on which ones he likes best. Then he will graze by the other tables, just him and me, to see where all the other products are heading. He can get a sense of the sweep of the whole company, the iPhone and iPad, the iMac and laptop and everything we’re considering. That helps him see where the company is spending its energy and how things connect. And he can ask, “Does doing this make sense, because over here is where we are growing a lot?” or questions like that. He gets to see things in relationship to each other, which is pretty hard to do in a big company. Looking at the models on these tables, he can see the future for the next three years.

Much of the design process is a conversation, a back-and-forth as we walk around the tables and play with the models. He doesn’t like to read complex drawings. He wants to see and feel a model. He’s right. I get surprised when we make a model and then realize it’s rubbish, even though based on the CAD [computer-aided design] renderings it looked great.

He loves coming in here because it’s calm and gentle. It’s a paradise if you’re a visual person. There are no formal design reviews, so there are no huge decision points. Instead, we can make the decisions fluid. Since we iterate every day and never have dumb-ass presentations, we don’t run into major disagreements.

And – of course – Jobs did not really like Powerpoint: “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”


(I couldn’t find a picture of the Apple Design Studio, but this one by Edwin Tofslie showing the evolution of Apple products is nice as well)(image source)

Physical vs. Digital

Steve Jobs was always into real products as Issacson writes: “Jobs liked to be shown physical objects that he could feel, inspect, and fondle.“.  But Jobs was also in what I would call “Physical Interaction”:

“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

I really support this quote and therefore the space for creativity is really important! We need more thinking into this area.

Last but not least

Deciding what  not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.

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Comments»

1. Johannes - March 21, 2012

Is there an overall advantage on either side in “Tools vs Results”? If I got your summary right, Pixar concentrated on the output, not the tools, and succeeded, Scott concentrated on the output and failed.

Something, that always comes to my mind when thinking about “Market Research and Prototypes”: At Apple, most of the staff (everyone?) can easily design for her/himself, everyone is a user of their own products. This means, a lot of “user research” would happen in-house, which would be more difficult in other areas, especially in B2B.

I could imagine that the sentence “Steve comes in … remarking on which ones he likes best.” contains quite some truth about how decisions were made at Apple. If there is a boss who decides it all anyways, you can’t have co-creation in its pure form (it was Apple’s big advantage that the boss was very aware of users’ needs himself).

And thanks for the summary and your take on it!


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