Artists are everywhere, but not all artists live by the easel.
Three and half years ago Apple lost their co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs. Jobs was much more than a CEO. He was a shrewd business leader, a master salesman, a brilliant designer, and yes, an artist. Notice that the word inventor was not on this list. The truth of the matter is Steve Jobs, the co-founder of the most valuable company in the world (as of this post), a technology company with a cult-like following of users, was seldom ever responsible for inventing anything himself. In fact, as a programmer he stunk. As an engineer, he was lost. Open up the machine and show him the circuit board and he would never see the bits and bytes like engineers would. He would see something else. He would see the possibilities.
That brings me to the Artist in Steve Jobs. If you’re in your late thirties or older then you probably remember those early days of the personal computer. The boxes were always a dull beige-colored box with no personality. Then in 1984 the Macintosh computer arrived and everything changed. The technology inside that computer can be credited to the brilliant and devoted engineers at Apple who poured their soul into the machine they created. The engineers had to work around the demands of Jobs as the case was restricting of a more general design. While credit for the efficient technology belongs to these engineers, the design of the case itself belongs to Jobs. Jobs came up with the idea to streamline the case and integrate the monitor with the disk drive. He also liked the idea of round corners for the case. In short, Jobs love of minimalism came out in his design of the Macintosh. Years later, the iMac would go even further to shirk the old dull boxy-look of the home computer. His machines, through his artistic hands, had a personality of their own. Industrial design is indeed an art, but the public usually doesn’t see it as such because most times the money surrounding the development and the sale, plus the primary function of the product, tend to cover the artistry of what is being sold. With Apple products however, make no mistake, under Jobs the devices he churned out were works of art.
As stated earlier, Jobs loved minimalism. This love really showed in later products. Think back to the first iPod. There was a button conspicuously missing from the device: the power button. Jobs thought the inclusion of a button would disrupt the smooth styling of the case. A button would wreck the symmetrical look and feel of the iPod. Jobs and his engineers came up with the idea of simply letting the iPod go into a sleep mode when not in use. The function was, as was the case in most of Jobs products, the subordinate to the design. The result was another visual masterpiece of craftsmanship. While Jobs was no expert on circuit boards or memory chips, his hand was still involved in the board layouts. He wanted the internal screws made of a certain material, to have a certain shape, to conform with the layout of the circuitry to produce a sublime yet powerful visual design. Here is evidence to the idea of Jobs being an artist, (and he saw himself as one): inside the first shipment of Macintosh computers, a metal plate was attached to the internals of the machine which featured copies of the signatures of the Macintosh team and Jobs himself. He once said to his team, “true artists sign their works of art.”
I just finished reading Jobs’ biography written by Walter Isaacson. It was a revealing look into what he liked and disliked about product design. He frequently talked about Apple living at the intersection of technology and the humanities. That thought resonates with me because my day job is writing software. At night I indulge my creative impulses with drawing and painting. Somewhere these two disciplines intersect and it’s there that I define myself. I didn’t agree with a lot of Jobs personality, the raging tantrums, the selfish motivations, but I found myself relating to his love of art and technology. Artists are everywhere. Art is everywhere. Steve Jobs was an artist of the highest degree and his art changed our perceptions of what was, and is, possible. Thank you for the inspiration Steve. Although I will always be a Windows man myself.