How Steve Jobs Love for Simplicity Fueled a Design Revolution

This article discusses how Steve Jobs revolutionized the standard of design for technology and what we now expect and demand. Interestingly, his design inspiration came from his childhood home near San Francisco and the sleek, simple, clean, yet affordable houses built by Joseph Eichler. Jobs noted “his houses were smart and cheap and good. They brought clean design and simple taste to lower-income people.” His original vision for Apple he said, was to take a really great design and simple capability and bring it the mass market. Jobs said, “to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.” This simplicity is what later became what we now understand as sophistication and the desired design style.

Jobs focus on simplicity was also impacted by his conversion for Buddhism and the pilgrimage he took to India to seek enlightenment. In Zen Buddhism there is a great focus on simplicity, minimal aesthetics and intense focus, which you could say are staples of Apple products. His preference for simple aesthetics also influenced his preference for simple interface design.

Later on, at the International Design Conference in Aspen in Colorado he was exposed to the simple yet expressive, Bauhaus style movement. “It emphasized rationality and functionality by employing clean lines and forms.”

At a later Design Conference, he predicted that the previous style that Sony had been using in their products (blacks, dark grays, heavy industrial look), was a thing of the past. Again, he continues to emphasize simplicity above all. Going along with this simplicity he wants functionality to be intuitive, or “obvious”. After numerous design attempts, his first desktop computer design came to look almost human (head, chin, etc.) and made his computer “friendly”. Additionally he was very interested in fonts and the spacing between betters etc., and how it helped/didn’t help usability.

One designer on the team, Jonathan Ive was close to quitting because he was fed up with the company’s focus on profit maximization rather than product design. Ive once described what he believed simplicity truly meant and said,”simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.” This was a fundamental idea that both Jobs and Ive shared. You must truly understand what people want and how the products work to make it as simple as possible. Getting rid of anything that wasn’t essential.

It is interesting to think if jobs hadn’t emphasized clean and simple designs in his products what our products would look like today? Or if psychologically we like clean and simple in our products anyways?

One thought on “How Steve Jobs Love for Simplicity Fueled a Design Revolution

  1. McClain,

    This is a very keen synopis. I actually had no idea that Steve Jobs had converted to Buddhism and how much that had impacted his business design and outlook. Also, it is interesting how his design inspiration came from houses near his hometown in San Francisco, but his spiritual enlightment seems to have enhanced his perspective on a sleek, simple, minimalistic design. It is a valid question to pose at the end, “it is interesting to think if jobs hadn’t emphasized clean and simple designs in his products what our products would look like today?” I don’t think the answer is so straight forward, considering that Sony was the lead developer in laptops, game consoles and phones, most companies at the time emulated their approach, but Apple really shocked the market with their innovation.

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