The design genius of Steve Jobs

Steve and the iPhoneWith the death of Steve Jobs, the world has lost its foremost design genius. But his legacy will live on, and I believe we will see Jobs elevated to the level of Leonardo Da Vinci in the years to come.

We all know that Jobs was not simply a designer — but what does it really mean to be a designer? I think it’s someone who can take abstract ideas, turn them into reality and delight users. And make money while they’re doing it. By this definition, the last hundred years have not seen a greater designer than Jobs.

Some might disagree and claim Jonathan Ive is the real design force behind Apple (s AAPL).You could have said that of Susan Kare, who created many of the Mac interface designs some 30 years ago, or countless other brilliant designers. But recognising Jobs’s genius is to believe that design is always a process — the birth process of services and objects.

Jobs transformed the computer industry twice, first with Macintosh and more recently with iPad. He revolutionised the phone business, plus the music industry with iPod and iTunes, and the movies with Pixar. He even influenced retail with the Apple shops often referred to as “tech temples” for camped-out fanboys. Where else do you see customers smiling as they queue?

When I speak with friends, they all have their Steve Jobs inspiration stories. CEOs, business unit heads, general managers, product leads, business development: from everywhere within a company, from creative to financial, all look to Steve for inspiration, and salute his exceptional skills.

Great products are born out of deep, relentless dissatisfaction with the present and the status quo. Inside Apple’s walls, Jobs almost seemed to carry the burden of all humanity’s frustration with bad products. Apple kept its part of the bargain; now it is up to the rest of us to continue Jobs’ legacy of pursuing elegant simplicity.

Dear Steve, not only did you bring us great fish, you taught us to fish. Your craftsmanship was evident across the latest Apple products launched this week, and they are again an example of your leadership.

I believe you taught us that users do not only need new objects. What they need is constantly improving and empowering experiences. Form may be what ignites the lust in us, but it is experience that sustains our love. Steve Jobs was, and through his incomparable influence still remains, a true design genius.

Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
— Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011

Christian Lindholm is the Chief Innovation Officer at Fjord, a London-based convergence design agency. He worked at Yahoo and also spent ten years at Nokia in various roles. He invented the Nokia Navi-key user interface and is regarded as the father of the Series 60 user interface.