Steve Jobs. Shared Beliefs. Business. And Design.

By Joe Duffy Dec 14, 2011

In the days since Steve Jobs’ passing, I’ve read and reflected along with millions of others around the world. It’s truly amazing the impact that this one man made. So, at the risk of piling on, I thought I’d add my 2 cents about what Steve Jobs meant to me, as designer, a businessman and an individual. 

His accomplishment in creating products that we have lived with (and in some cases for)—now the products that many of us cannot live without—speaks for itself. What Jobs envisioned and pronounced to the world in the epic television commercial “1984,” was a social movement among people everywhere, of all ages and belief systems, to embrace technology as a means to live a better life. His view on technology was that it should allow us to express ourselves and to connect with others. What he so fervently held on to, at the core of all the things he led Apple to realize, was that for people to use his products—to want them, to yearn for them—was that they had to fit into their lives on an everyday basis. What began as just another tech startup in a Silicon Valley garage, with cynical views from the business world and a cult-like following of creatively minded people, recently became the most valuable company on the planet. And it all began less than thirty years ago.

Perhaps it is ironic that 1984 marks the same year that I started my design business. And while I can’t say that my vision or business intention was so clearly formulated then as it is now, it is our desire at Duffy & Partners to use our experience and talent to help people—our clients and their customers—to have choices that allow them to live “a designed life” in small and large ways every day.

Jobs proved that the things people want aren’t always the first, the biggest or the fastest. But they do have to be intuitive, convenient and well designed in both form and function. What he practiced and delivered regularly, which is so rare in my opinion, is true “design thinking” in its holistic form. In fact, what he practiced has just recently become an almost mainstream approach to business. 

It’s funny how his ability to touch popular culture went far beyond selling product; it had a powerful effect on language and the way the world does business. Today, design isn’t something that business HAS to do—to products, packages, stores and websites—it’s finally becoming an integral part of conducting all of business.

The idea is that to be truly successful we must strive beyond building viable and efficient systems via Six Sigma; and consider more than creating emotional connections with branding and marketing; and continue to push for more than merely the next generation for people, through technology. In today’s quickly evolving and highly developed world, we need to consider innovation throughout the entire experience—that’s design thinking. As Jobs showed us, it’s about more than quick computing, mega storage, flashy features and sexy styling. It’s about all those things and it’s about designing a unique point of view to communicate those things. It’s about delivering those things and to live with those things day in and day out. At Duffy & Partners, we talk about this as designing a unique brand language to inspire a consistent and powerful brand experience.

Jobs demonstrated design thinking time and again. He was truly brilliant at delivering. Because of this track record, he earned the position of not having to talk about “design thinking”. He didn’t have to explain or sell. Though many credit him with being a world-class presenter, the truth was his presentations were more show than tell. In my opinion, that was part of what made them so powerful. I regularly wish that in my business it might be enough to just show the power of truly great design, the kind that’s powered by design thinking, versus having to explain it, its process and its impact in the detail we typically have to do, to build the bridge of consensus between the right brain and left brain constituents that make up most of the highly pressured business teams today.

Jobs also proved that giving people what they want isn’t the same as asking them what they want. The truth is that most people can’t possibly envision, let alone articulate, the ideas and innovations they will eventually embrace and adopt.

To Jobs, design was clearly a way of life. It was a means to an end, to get the most out of every moment that we have on this earth. And I don’t mean getting the most in terms of financial success. The man who helped envision and lead the most financially successful company on earth wasn’t driven by the dough. And what’s so amazing to me is that even after being ousted and coming back and even after being diagnosed with cancer, he continued to come to work everyday because he knew that the creativity he found in design is what excited him. It made him happy to wake up each day with new challenges and new opportunities to design and present people with products unimagined by the world. He thrived on the push. And push he did, to constantly deliver products designed to make people’s lives better, in small ways and in big ways. It meant so much to him that he continued the drive until mere weeks before his death. He did so, unwilling to compromise his principles and thereby risk the chance of losing his love of life.

Steve Jobs designed his life. In so doing, he helped people around the world to design theirs, too. He changed business vernacular and practice. He proved the power of design and design thinking time and again. He lived with conviction and refused to give in to the pressure that comes from running a huge public company while also becoming a global icon. Jobs was true to himself to the end. These are the real reasons he’s a hero to me. 

It is one thing to be a legend. I believe Steve Jobs is. It is another to inspire a legacy. I know Steve Jobs has. There may be no replacing Steve Jobs. His vision, his conscience, his integrity and his understanding of the true power of design will be sorely missed. We at Duffy & Partners will continue to do our part to follow in his footsteps. We are thankful for his work in helping to change the world. I am inspired daily by his ability to live and lead for many, the opportunity to “live a designed life.”

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