I can’t claim to be the first to draw a comparison between Steve Jobs and British designer William Morris. Long before this past week – around the time of the Stanford commencement address where Jobs explained how calligraphy led to his innovations with fonts – people were already making this connection. Jobs himself “got it”:
“We don’t have a way to talk about this kind of thing,” Steve said. “In most people’s vocabularies, ‘design’ means veneer. It is interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”
Or as Morris said: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
There’s an irony in the comparison, as Harry Rutherford observes in his tribute, but the comparison holds nonetheless. I’ve been attracted to Apple products since 1987, in large part because of their simplicity, their beauty and their elegant functionality. And we have Steve Jobs to thank for these qualities.
It’s not all roses. If there’s one area where I’m critical of Apple it’s the way aesthetics all too often take priority over ergonomics – it’s been a long time since I used an Apple mouse or keyboard for that reason. So not always useful. As for computer fonts: such creative power is fabulous but it doesn’t always lead to beauty. Think how many ghastly, half-baked flyers, posters and newsletters we could have avoided if Steve Jobs had never attended calligraphy class? (Ok, that price is worth paying…)
As others have also pointed out, it wasn’t just about the design and technological developments themselves, the real achievement was the way Jobs and Apple changed (and raised) our expectations of technology, sparked creative possibilities, gave great delight and empowered a generation. I didn’t know the man, but I’m grateful for the legacy.