<p>It is with a heavy heart I write this post, and I'm sure with a heavy heart that you read it. I was overcome by sadness when I learned of Steve Jobs' passing last night, and it made me stop and think about why my emotions were so strong for a person I'd never...</p>
It is with a heavy heart I write this post, and I'm sure with a heavy heart that you read it. I was overcome by sadness when I learned of Steve Jobs' passing last night, and it made me stop and think about why my emotions were so strong for a person I'd never met.
My First Encounters
I remember first paying attention to Macintosh computers as I started to hear the grumblings of photography students back in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1993. You see, the photography department at the Cleveland Institute of Art (from which I had just graduated, just missing the influx of the digital age into higher education) had just invested in its first Mac, along with software called Photoshop and an instructor named Stan. Stan told the aspiring photographers and lovers of film and chemicals that the Mac would render film irrelevant, and one day in the not too distant future, all photography would be digital. Of course, this royally pissed off all the photo purists, but I waved my hands around and implored them to back up and tell me more about this amazing machine and the software it could run. When I imagined the possibilities of a creative tool set running on something as powerful and versatile as a computer, combined with the exposure the Internet offered, my mind instantly saw the new possibilities open to all artists. Suddenly I no longer was trapped in a world of physicality, slide sheets, printed resumes, mailed out portfolio packets, imperfectly exposed images, incorrectly sized prints, and the ability to only show my work to those who stopped by my studio or visited a show in a gallery (if I was lucky enough to get one).
Addiction and Love
I was an instant addict. I scrounged up as much money as I could and begged my parents for the rest so I could go get a Mac. A Performa 550, I believe. And a scanner. And some software. I didn't know how to use it, but I knew I had to learn. I remember someone saying offhandedly way back then that I could get a PC for less, or it would be more expandable, blah blah blah, but I'd heard that Macs were for artists, designers and creative people. To me (a freshly graduated art school kid aspiring to be a fine artist), that warranted the decision. The revolution of desktop publishing was ushered in by Macs, and to me, that was the platform I should be on.
Over the years I purchased more Macs, more software, more peripherals, as they became available and I could afford them. I admired the evolving operating system, the elegant solutions, the celebration of the creative spirit. I turned a blind eye to the shortcomings, because for me, the cons were far outweighed by the pros. I became a Mac fan, and never wavered. On my wall in my office hangs 1 share of Apple stock, printed on parchment paper donning the old rainbow apple logo, purchased for $12 as a first year wedding anniversary gift by my partner (the first year is the "paper" year). It is now worth almost $1000. And yes, it's sad it wasn't 1000 shares, but we were poor struggling artists.
The Value of Joy
As my love affair with Macs continued, I was often questioned by others - why do you spend the extra money for a Mac? Nobody else is using them in business; why do you insist on using one? Isn't it so much harder to find programs that will run on it? And on and on. It always seemed like mindless questioning. I could do what I wanted to do on a Mac and not on a PC; therefore the money was well worth it. I was creating for myself, not for other business people, so who cared what the business norm was? I had the tools I needed, and they worked really well, so who cares that I couldn't buy a million crappy games or software apps to run on it? My Macs did exactly what I wanted them to do, and they encouraged me to keep making things that were creative, well-designed, and pleasant for others to experience.
I didn't expect to end up spending my days working on computers, let alone run a company where our end product couldn't exist without computers. And in fact I don't think of it that way even now as I've been doing just that for the past 15 years or so - I just don't see it as "work." This is because I love the space I work in, the space in my Mac. It is more than a tool; it is the environment I create in, it is the window to the world through which I communicate, it offers the possible solutions to all my problems, it is my studio. From the moment I turn on my Mac (and this could be my desktop setup at the office, my laptop I use while traveling, my iPad I use at home, or my iPhone that I use all the time), I am no longer "working," I am collaborating. I am conducting elaborate and complex dances with a series of programs, apps, technologies, interfaces, and experiences. I am being given the ultimate set of tools to help me be creative, and to be my best.
The Obsession of Perfection
I was always struck by the articles or interviews I read about Steve Jobs. He was clearly obsessed with the user experience, and in making that experience the best it could be. I can't say that about many people, businesses or organizations, but I can say it about Steve and Apple. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.” - Steve Jobs. When we are reviewing designs or new Website prototypes around the Fastspot offices, or just talking about ideas or checking out other things, it's a constant effort to hold everything up to a high standard. It's not easy or fun to constantly scrutinize every tiny detail, to look for (and find) problems, shortcomings, things we just don't like. And it's not easy on the ego either, when we are critiquing our own work. It's so much easier to let that "good enough" mentality take over. It's exhausting to constantly push for perfection. But it's the only way you get great results.
Steve, Apple, and the products and experiences they have created over the past 17 years I have been using them have become a constant source of inspiration and aspiration. It is this pursuit to build a great company, create amazing things, and work with extremely talented people that inspired us to start Fastspot back in 2001. I seriously did write down "Karma" on a napkin and half-seriously declare it our business plan (yes, while at a bar). But it stuck - because you do indeed get back what you put out into the universe. And this is why we have the extra revision rounds, blow through some project hours we didn't have, stay late while we try to find a solution, or tell a client "no." If we weren't striving for perfection, and trying to put out the best of what we have to give, we would just be making unexceptional stuff, and who really wants to be doing that?
A Light Has Gone Out
I worry that with the passing of such an inspirational creative mind, we have become a slightly darker world, with a slightly darker future ahead of us. I want more people to try to be like Steve; I want more companies to try to be like Apple. I dislike mediocrity, because it doesn't contribute anything. I hate apathy, because it doesn't promote change. I abhor literal thinking, because it kills off any chance of a creative spark of brilliance. I am a champion of individuality because without it, we are simply conductors of a larger, more generalized norm. I resist focus group testing for the same reasons Steve didn't test so many Apple prototypes. "It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them." - Steve Jobs. I am grateful that I get to work in the design business, because design is what Steve, and Apple, and my first Mac helped me fall in love with, or helped me realize I was already in love with, or enabled me to realize my love's true potential.
Carry the Torch
To all the other designers, seekers of excellence, creative minds and addicts of technology and the user experience who are out there, it is up to us all to continue pushing the things we do as far as we can, to hold them up to the light of our own critical scrutiny and ask, can it be better? I hope the rest of our country follows suit, because from my vantage point, it's the only way out of the mess we are in. A world of easy, mediocre, acceptable, semi-functional, short-term creations is not the world Steve was creating, and it's not the world I want to live in. Let's make sure it doesn't go that way. Let's make a world of exquisite, magical, inspiring, fun, powerful, genuine, and beautiful experiences.
“In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains or the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” - Steve Jobs.
Rest in peace, Steve Jobs, and thanks for everything.