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Three lessons from Jobs

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. HappymacThe 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.

Comments

Ken

Agree. the problem they had when he wasn't there was they were producing products that didn't quite work right, and didn't justify the higher prices.

Max

I completely disagree with #2; the reason I've always hated Apple products is that I don't have control. I just went to a workshop given by Tufte (who does happen to really like Apple) this week and he talked about giving the person reading the graphic control to look at and explore whatever they were most interested in, which is the opposite of what Apple does with their products.

Martin

Well summarized!

I also found these principles quite good guidelines, when developing Mondrian. As developers we often forget that the developer's model is usually not compatible with the user's model - but this is a rather old hat in UI development, though Apple is almost the only (big) company that understood this inequality.
I think Max did not really understand what Kaiser's second point means. Maintaining control means to decide on how things should work and concepts fit together. Only by doing so you can keep products clean and focused. The ultimate freedom for the user makes 99% of your tasks harder, by giving you the freedom to do these 1% things you otherwise wouldn't be able to do.

From my own experience in software development, I can remember several such decisions which seem to patronize the user, but do pay off for both users and developers in the long run.

Max

I understand completely, and don't doubt that it works for a lot of people, but there are relatively simple things that can't be done because Apple has decided I'm not allowed to do them. If it was really 99% vs 1% I wouldn't have a problem, but iPhone took several iterations to even allow you to use two apps at the same time which is something is used by most people far more than 1% of the time. They do things not to maintain control in order improve their users' experience, but rather because they want to separate themselves entirely from everyone else and isolate their users into Apple platforms.

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