'One of the truly great designers and mentors'
Published 07/10/2011 | 05:00
Even before he died, Steve Jobs had secured his place in the pantheon of industrial design as one of its most influential figures of the last century.
The Mac, the iPod and iPhone, born out of his vision of marrying high technology with an elegant and simple form, are already recognised by designers as among the most iconic products of the digital age.
"One of the truly great designers and mentors," said British architect Norman Foster, known for working on major projects such as the Millennium Bridge and Swiss Re's headquarters dubbed "The Gherkin" in London.
"Steve Jobs encouraged us to develop new ways of looking at design to reflect his unique ability to weave backwards and forwards between grand strategy and the minutiae of the tiniest of internal fittings," said Foster, who designed Apple's new headquarters in California.
The iPod, Apple's big game-changer launched a decade ago, has a special place on the wall of fame of consumer icons, alongside the Volkswagen Beetle, the Coca-Cola bottle, the Swiss Army pocket knife or the Olivetti portable typewriter.
Only relatively few consumer designs go truly global and rarer still are those that change the way people do things.
From its inception in 2001, the iPod reshaped the music industry in a way its predecessor, the Sony Walkman, failed to do in a lasting fashion.
Apple is a computer company, yet it was the first to successfully commercialise digital music on the internet well before industry giants EMI, Warner Music Group and Sony Music and helped save the industry from slow death by piracy.
Hundreds of millions of iPods have been sold, most featuring a simple retro dial that bears the hallmark of Jobs's design philosophy of clean minimalism.
"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", said British industrial designer James Dyson, best known for the dual-cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner.
All over the world, iPods are tucked into the back of torn jeans and in the pockets of executive suits, strapped to the arms of joggers or entertaining commuters on long, tedious journeys.
Then came the iPad, released in 2010, which changed the way people read newspapers and books, took notes, surfed the internet, called each other on Skype and dealt with everyday practical problems thanks to hundreds of savvy applications.
At Paris Fashion Week, which ended on Wednesday, fashion buyers took photos of dresses with their iPad and once the show was over, they flicked through them as a catalogue they had just created and decided which ones to buy.
The iPad is also getting the airline industry to rethink on-board entertainment technology. Airlines are looking into using iPads for in-flight entertainment to help trim costs and weight.
Professional designers regard Jobs not as one of them per se but as an innovator and businessman who recognised that form was just as important as function for a product's success.
They say there is no question Jobs directed the design fundamentals at Apple -- from the elimination of any unsightly screws in product casings to the type-face used to stamp them -- but he also relied on talented professional designers, from Hartmut Esslinger in the 1980s to Jonathan Ive who joined in the 1990s.
Jobs was so obsessed with design that he hired Esslinger in 1982 on the then astronomical salary of $1m a year to create Apple's design strategy, which produced the "Snow White" design of all Apple products for the rest of that decade.