Decoding Design

Steve Jobs: Immortal by design

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Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' impact on industrial design is indelible.

The cult of Mac is mourning the loss of its black-turtlenecked leader today, but the accolades for and remembrances of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs will continue for decades. So will his impact on product design.

"He humanized technology and made it work in wondrous ways that genuinely improved our lives." That's how The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation put Jobs' career into context.

Indeed, Apple products changed the way we consume media, full stop, by marrying high technology with simple, elegant, intuitive design. And intuition was a hallmark of Apple product design under Jobs' leadership.

When asked how market research informed the design of the iPad, he famously replied that it didn't. "It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want,” Jobs said.

And as industrial designer James Dyson told Reuters: "Steve Jobs has shown that breakthrough products come from taking intuitive risks, not from listening to focus groups. He was a master of semiotic design."

Boiling incredibly intricate hardware and software down to such streamlined, spare form factors democratized technology (we have to ignore here, of course, the high cost of Apple products). It turned grandmothers into text messengers and it turned accountants into website designers.

The Rio PMP300 and iPod's first gen

So, now what? Most likely, we'll see more of the same kind of intuitive, taste-making design in the years to come. As Bloomberg notes, Apple's lead product designer and Jobs' longtime collaborator, Jonathan Ive, will fill the creative gap left by Jobs' passing.

But in fact, while Jobs has widely been viewed as the creative spark behind Apple's ascension into the annals of industrial design, it was Ive who cooked up the brightly colored enclosures of the iMac and who later oversaw the creative evolution of i-products (iPod, IPhone, iPad).

Like Jobs, Ive has a laser focus and a perfectionists' approach to product development. Bloomberg's article says Ive's field work includes long trips to Asia, where he gets into the minutiae of product manufacturing.

Ive obsesses over shapes, materials and composition -- even "the tiny gaps around each part and screw in a product." As a result, products like the iPhone (the device through which millions of Apple devotees likely learned of Jobs' passing) are as solid as they are pretty.

Photo: Earbuds, Flickr/wmbreedveld

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure