Being inspired

I discovered my interest in design after reading the biography of Steve Jobs. I know it is such a cliché that a business student gets inspired by Steve Jobs and the way he revolutionized the word. I am also aware about the many bad sides of his leadership style and how he has often taken credits for the work of other people or a whole team of people. To be frank, I personally don’t idolize nor demonize Steve Jobs, however, it is a fact that he has set new standards in design of electronics goods, which was enough to make me have a different view on the products that surround us. In this assignment I will discuss why Steve Jobs made me think about design, how Apple´s design process relates to our design thinking process learned at class, and how can steps from Steve´s design thinking helps us in business environment.

  • Why Steve Jobs made me think about design?

While reading the biography of Steve jobs I was always annoyed and puzzled by his eye for detail and precision. We all know that he did not save money nor time in designing his products, but what not everybody knows is that he applied the same obsession for perfection to parts of Apple products that cannot be seen from the outside.  For instance, Steve insisted that also the inner parts of an Apple computer must be perfectly designed even though they would not be seen by the vast majority of Apple´s customers. As a business student who majored in accounting I was enraged. Such decisions seemed to me as unnecessary cost factors in both, time spent doing it and the resources needed. Furthermore, while readying the first few chapters of the book I was imagining Steve as a spoiled young man with too much money and obsession for details. However, then I realised, I was probably thinking as many corporate leaders of PC and electronics companies at that time: save money on design, allocate more resources to engineering, don’t use expensive materials, make sure the product can be produced quickly. Nobody ever looked at the product though the eyes of the customer, and that’s why Apple was able to achieve such a success. I started realizing why the design of Apple products was so appealing to people. It is because it was intuitive, simple and elegant. After investing a lot of thought whether the pareto principle or the Steve Jobs approach was the right one, I turned to the source of Steve´s inspiration for my answer, the Buddhist Zen Garden. The Zen garden made me realise that true beauty requires time and a lot of small steps that might not seem important when observed individually.

1-zen-garden-at-a-sunny-morning-ulrich-schadeThat is the moment when I started noticing how many things in my surroundings are useless, unfinished or badly designed e.g. at the time I had a Huawei phone with a button on the side that was completely unnecessary, and I still don’t know what was it used for. Simultaneously, I was more and more appreciating well designed objects because I was thinking that somebody invested time and effort in making it look beautiful and easy to use, in comparison to products that were manufactured by some professional bureaucrat.

  • How Steve´s design process relates to our class?

Similarly to the design thinking process we learned on class, the designers in Apple had their guidelines that made sure the customers would love the product. A major step was to create empathy, which was achieved by understanding the customers’ needs and feelings. The second step was focus on the important. They would eliminate all unimportant features in order to make the device easy to use. Often when I get annoyed of trying to figure out how a webpage or app works, I remember the importance of focus. Even though a phone is a complicated engineering masterpiece, the iPhone´s interface is designed so intuitively that even a very old and young people can find what they need in just a few klicks. This is mostly related to the devices produced while Steve was alive. Today Apple devices seem to place more emphasis on appearance at the expense of understandability and usage, however, that is a topic for another discussion. By placing themselves in the shoes of the customer designers discovered that their average customer cared about the appearance of the device and ease of use, and not thousands of technical specifications that nobody would use. imac-artificial-colors

 Friendliness became another step in designing their devices. Curved lines and bright colours added were the decisive factor for customers to choose an Apple product, in comparation to black, cubical and industrial devices other companies produced. These devices looked cold and distanced for the user. Steve was great in empathizing with a consumer before a product was created, which is a trait that many successful companies share for instance the same approach was used by Spotify when disrupting the music industry. 

  • How can steps from Steve´s design thinking helps us in business environment?

While I believe that many corporations have the creative capacities, many fail in focusing on what’s important. I have also been part of a meeting where all what we needed was a simple mobile application, however, the initial task has grown into something complex and unrecognisable. Different departments as purchasing, marketing, accounting, IT were adding requirements and protecting their own interests. The project manager decided to make everybody happy and took a bit of everything into the requirements document and the outcome was a disaster.

angrySituations like this can easily be solved by applying design thinking. Steve´s design approach would look at what the customer really needs and not the departments for their internal struggles and power games. Although it’s a good thing to get different ideas, the team has to stay focused on the ultimate goal, customer experience. This is something where Steve Jobs would not give in, and brutally wipe out the parts that disrupt the simplicity of the design or the users experience.

Finally, it can be said that Steve was a controversial person and that some of this practice are not considered as good management. However, it also clear that Steve left us a legacy of beautifully designed products that are build on the design thinking principles of empathy, focus and friendliness.

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