I feel like I know Steve Jobs even though I don't know him. I know him through the Apple products I have used through the years.
My first exposure to Apple coincided with coming to the States for college. Before the move, I had only ever used PCs, assembled by my Dad. The first week of college, I found myself in a room of Macintoshes: in those days, they were off-white cubic blocks, slightly smaller than shoeboxes, with black-and-white, low-resolution screens. A "happy Mac" was always there to greet you. It only took 15 or 20 minutes to fall in love. In this time, I figured out how to use a mouse, the difference between single and double clicking, minimizing windows, file directories, etc. etc. When my friends tell me today that their six-month-old baby could instinctively learn to start their favorite game on the iPad, I believe them. I believe them because I experienced it myself.
By all accounts, Apple products bear the fingerprints of Steve Jobs's dogged vision. His vision offers three important lessons for graphics designers:
1) Never take your eyes off the user experience.
The product is in service of the user. Charts serve readers. What are the key questions to answer? How can we help deliver their needs effortlessly?
2) Maintain the producer's control.
Knowing the user does not mean relinquishing control. Apple products are very tightly designed. The email application on the iPhone works beautifully out of the box but it doesn't try to replicate every feature available online. It doesn't have to. Good graphics are never neutral; their producers have a point of view.
3) Balance form and function.
Distractors often mock Apple for false "innovations": they ask, why should a white iPhone cost more than a black one? how can rainbow-color iPods be considered an innovation? But we all react to beauty, to form. One shouldn't elevate form at the expense of function but function without form is hardly enough. The same holds for graphics.