What Steve Jobs has given to designers

Jon Contino Steve Jobs illustration 640px

Even though I’m a designer and design educator who is always surrounded by Apple computers, I’m truly surprised by my feelings of genuine sadness after learning about the death of Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and Pixar.

I’ve been trying to tell myself that it’s ridiculous and embarrassing to have these bizarre emotions about Steve, and that I didn’t think I was truly one of those Kool-Aid–drinking Mac “Fan-Boys” that camp outside the Apple store or live blog the Macworld keynote presentations. I hadn’t met him and I’ve heard that working with him could be challenging at times. He was just a distant CEO of a giant company (the world’s most valuable), and I have never been emotional about any “celebrity” or corporate officer passing away. Any death is sad, of course, but why am I actually in a funk on a personal level about the death of this man I didn’t know?

Maybe I can talk it through… I work in a university art department. I teach in a computer lab. I also do client-based and personal design work. There may not be many more Apple–centric experiences than that which I have in this shiny silver and glossy white environment. The faculty computers are all Macs, some students have Apple laptops and walk around with all vintages of iPhones, my computer lab is full of Mac Pro computers, and, increasingly, when I visit someone in math or engineering, they’re also working on a Mac or giving a presentation on an iPad. Still, it’s just a bunch of geeky gadgets on which we spent a lot of money to use to make book trailers, layouts and write HTML markup, so why the strange emotions? Big deal, I tell myself, it was just the CEO that died. My computer will still turn on, and iTunes will still play Massive Attack and Ella.

But it is a big deal.

When I open up my MacBook Pro each day, I am excited about doing my work. When I’m happily working, I am enjoying my career, and when I’m enjoying my career, I’m loving life even more. I love typography and the choosing of typefaces to employ in motion designs and web sites, and I love the way that the Mac presents these type families to me so smoothly and accurately everywhere, including web fonts in Safari and the various web browsers. I love being able to swipe various numbers of fingers across the computer’s track pad in various directions, allowing me to quickly move through various stacks of programs, windows and palettes. And, let’s be honest, I love opening up my MacBook Pro in a coffee shop because I know that I’m pridefully broadcasting to people that I work in a creative field. Not so much wanting to show that I have a seeming-high-value, swanky computer, but that this computer is known as being one traditionally used more by artists, and sometimes I love feeling like a highbrow artist.

Sure, Steve Jobs wasn’t perfect, and no machine is perfect, including Apple products. I, too, get upset when I can’t find the right adapter to plug someone’s MacBook Pro into a digital projector or attempt to get a PowerPoint file to work on its way to or from a Windows computer. But I continue to tell my students to buy Apple computers because, ever since Steve dropped out of college and dropped into that calligraphy class at Reed College, some strange, motivating force of creativity seems to flow from the user, in through the track pads and magic mice and out through the polished and incredibly user-friendly interface, and this makes working on projects fun and fulfilling. Steve’s passion for these machines, combined with teams of the highest quality engineers and designers, makes them a pure pleasure to work on. Apple, like art, would make a really bad religion, but somehow knowing that all the creatives around the world also love their Macintosh experience must have something to do with the excitement of busting out a mobile app wireframe in Adobe Illustrator or skinning a 3-D model in Cinema 4D. Without getting too creepy (too late?), it’s like being part of a giant, global creative team, and it helped knowing that we had a steady hand at the tiller.

All I can do for my students is repeat some of the words of Steve’s famous commencement address at Stanford University in 2005: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” And maybe that’s why I feel sadness over the loss of Steve Jobs. His passion put into these machines, as well as what he has emphatically kept out of them, has helped me, as a creative professional and teacher, love what I do, and my career is a big part of my life. So, thanks to Steve Jobs and the Apple team, and here’s to many more years of helping work be fun.

About the Author: Tom Hapgood is an assistant professor in the Visual Design area of the Art Department at the University of Arkansas. Tom’s interests are typography, motion graphics, information design, ubiquitous computing (qr codes), father depiction in mass media, Radio Frequency Identification, and installation art. Lately, he’s also been involved in production, design consulting and strategizing with Monster.com and U.S. News & World Report with HarperCollins publisher and authors Jeremy Hyman and Lynn Jacobs. He is a consultant for Applied Minds out of Glendale, CA and launched the site and packaging for The Buffalo Flows and Bridge to War Eagle documentary films. He is also writes for the design blog at Design.org

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