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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.


Job Offer at IxDS December 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in jobs.
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IxDS, the Berlin-based Interaction Design Studios I am working with, is seeking for a FRONTEND/UI-DEVELOPER!

Here from the job description:

We are looking for an all-around sympathetic person to work with us on our projects as a frontend-developer a.k.a. user interface programmer a.k.a. creative technologist.

= Things you should know about =

You should be passionate about at least one of:
– Web (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Ajax,…)
– Mobile (Android, iOS,…)
– Freeform (Processing, Cinder, Arduino,…)

Additionally, you should be able to communicate fluently with:
– colleagues developing backend technologies
– colleagues designing the user interface design

= What you can look forward to =

IxDS is an interaction design consultancy based in Berlin.
We apply methods of co-creation and agile prototyping to give shape to our clients’ visions.
This means you will
– collaborate in a dynamic, interdiscplinary team
– develop with contemporary agile methods
– get direct feedback from end-users in our co-creation process
– work on a broad range of innovation-oriented projects
– have time for learning new things
– get fair pay and life-friendly working hours

= Apply =

We would like to fill this position as soon as possible.
Full-time employment is desired, but flexible arrangements are definitely possible.

Please send your application, including a portfolio and links to prior work to work@ixds.de.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate.

Quote June 23, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in jobs, new technologies, service design.
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An old (2003) quote from the ubiquitous hero Steve Jobs – just for the sake of completeness:

 ”Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ”People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”


Job Offer at IxDS – only for German speakers May 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in jobs.
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Here comes a job offer with IxDS, the design research firm I am involved with – unfortunately we are currently only looking for someone with German language skills:

Zur tatkräftigen Unterstützung für mehrere spannende Interface-Projekte suchen wir bei den IxDS Interaction Design Studios ab sofort zwei

Junior Designer_innen
(Student_in im Hauptstudium oder Absolvent_in)

zur Mitarbeit in unserem Berliner Büro.

(Die Stellen sind sowohl in Teil- als auch in Vollzeit denkbar)


Zu den Aufgabenfeldern gehören

  • Qualitative Benutzerstudien (Interviews/Beobachtungen)
  • Begleitung von CoDesign-Prozessen mit Nutzern
  • Konzeption  von grafischen und physischen Interfaces
  • Datenvisualisierung
  • Prototypische Umsetzung in Zusammenarbeit mit unseren Software-Entwicklern und
  • Benutzertests

Du solltest Verständnis in allen Bereichen und tiefere Kenntnisse im Bereich Interface-Gestaltung und/oder Datenvisualisierung mitbringen.


Wenn Du Interesse an der einer anspruchsvollen Tätigkeit in einem interdisziplinären und internationalem Team hast, dann bewerbe Dich bitte mit ein paar passenden Arbeitsproben bei uns.

Wenn noch Fragen offen sind, beantworten wir sie jederzeit gerne.


Johannes Landstorfer, work@ixds.de

Joboffer – Interactiondesign March 7, 2007

Posted by reto wettach in jobs.


I am currently setting up an interaction design research project in the area of home entertainment and communication. A special focus will be on new technologies as gesture-based interaction and multi-touch. The project will last 4 months and will take place in Berlin.

Now, we are looking for interaction designers with an experience in physical computing/programming as well as user-centered design processes. Experience in designing and implementing interactive exhibits or in designing interactions for consumer electronics would be useful.

It would be nice if you could stay in Berlin for the next three to four month during this project. And believe me: Berlin is worthwhile spending some time!

Job Offer! May 16, 2006

Posted by reto wettach in jobs.



For a 5-months research project I am looking for an Interaction Designer, who would like to play a major role in an academic project – sponsored by the industry.

Starting from the Apple patent for Gestures for touch sensitive input devices and from research as Navigation with spatially aware handheld displays we will do a creative exploration of tactile interaction with handheld devices.

I am looking for somebody, who is familiar with the status-quo in this area (research and art) and who is also able to conceptually develop new interaction design ideas and implement them with what we call "just-enough-prototyping"-techniques (as e.g. video prototyping and physical computing).

What I am mostly excited about in this project is that there is budget for experts to help us and that we will even be able to invite a research-guru from Japan and one from the US to give us feedback! 

The project will be starting as soon as possible and taking place in Berlin (during the World-Cup – if anybody cares). Please contact me: wettach (a) fh-potsdam.de