Steve Jobs, Innovator and Designer

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The world was alerted to the death of Steve Jobs, Apple’s singular visionary who pioneered the age of personal computing and transformed the way we perceive the world. Most of us read the news on some of Jobs’s own creations, staring into the film-glazed screens of our iPhones and iPads. Swiping up and down news pages and twitter feeds, we were exercising our greatest form of tribute.  Read on.

A smattering of Steve Jobs’ total 313 patents

Jobs, a wiz-kid who dropped out of Reed College, formed Apple in his parents’ garage with his high school friend Steve Wozniak. By 1983, the company was listed on Fortune’s 500, and Jobs had led the first successful charge in personal electronics. The same year, reluctant to take up the job himself, Jobs recruited former PepsiCo President John Sculley to head the expanding enterprise as chief executive. In 1984, the Macintosh was introduced in 60-second television spot aired during a commercial break of the 1984 Super Bowl.

Regarding his involvement with Jobs at the time, Sculley reminisced last year in an interview with Business Week, ”What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do. He’s a minimalist. I remember going into Steve’s house, and he had almost no furniture in it. He just had a picture of Einstein, whom he admired greatly, and he had a Tiffany lamp and a chair and a bed. He just didn’t believe in having lots of things around, but he was incredibly careful in what he selected.” Of the period, Jobs himself noted, ”I was single. All you needed was a cup of tea, a light, and your stereo, you know, and that’s what I had.”

Jobs, seated in his unfurnished mansion, was reportedly unsatisfied with furniture design.

He would become estranged from Sculley and the executives at Apple, taking his leave from the company in 1985 to go on to personal ventures, such as establishing NeXT, whose focus was the development of high-end computers and software, and building up Pixar, the struggling graphics company on which he had staked his personal fortune when he bought it from George Lucas. The first iteration of the internet was quite literally built on a NeXT computer in 1988, and Pixar’s 1995 animated film “Toy Story” launched a billion dollar market in the film industry.

Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, before becoming its chief executive in 2000. By this time he had discovered industrial designer Jonathan Ive toiling away in the company’s basement and had made him his closest working partner in reviving the Apple brand. The pair would go on to revolutionize the industry, with sleek and simple user-oriented products like the iPod and iPad.

Apple 5th Avenue

In 2005, Jobs, working with architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, translated the Apple image into built form. The Apple flagship store on 5th Avenue was the prototypical storefront, an all-glass cube which embodied Jobs’ intuitive knack for simplifying a design to its necessary constituent elements. Here, nearly all notions of building have been dissolved into an immersionary minimalist space, dominated by a glass staircase, of the kind Jobs patented himself. The interiors could be likened to the blank walls of a gallery, but they are completely devoid of the austerity usually associated with the latter. Anyone can walk into an Apple store and play around with the newest Apple device, and everyone does.

Steve Jobs’ patent for glass staircase

In May, construction began on the 5th Avenue store to replace the original Cube’s walls, reducing its 90 constituent glass pieces to just 15. Each of these new glass panes is 10′ wide and 32′ high, and is embedded with connectors that nullify the exterior steel joints that cluttered the original. The new Cube’s simplified aesthetic is the result of Apple’s ever-evolving approach to design, which, under Jobs’s perfectionist gaze, led to constant innovation in technology and building materials.

Rendering of the “new” Apple 5th Avenue.

This past summer, just months before his resignation as Apple’s head in late August, Jobs presented the designs for the company’s new headquarters to a community board in Cupertino, California. The plans later went public, with Jobs calling the projected structure “the best office building in the world.” Designed by Norman Foster, the building, an iconic doughnut (or spaceship, if you prefer) four-stories tall and comprised of nearly 2.8 million square feet, will accommodate up to 13,000 employees. The main facilities would include a 1,000 seat Corporate Auditorium, a corporate fitness center, a 300,000 square foot Research Center, a Central Plant, and associated parking.

For Jobs, it was integral that the design provide its employees with a hospitable and smart environment, promising “efficiency and convenience” and the experience of a “distinctive and inspiring 21st Century workplace,” while setting the tech-standards for building. A Central Plant installed on the site will decrease reliance on Cupertino’s power grid by generating its own energy, while news types of glass would be installed around the circumference of the building. “We know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use. . . . We can make it curve all the way around the building, ” Jobs said.

Apple Campus II, the company’s new HQ

Of Jobs and working with him, Sir Norman Foster noted in his tribute issued this morning, “He was the ultimate perfectionist and demanded of himself as he demanded of others.  We are better as individuals and certainly wiser as architects through the experience of the last two years and more of working for him.  His participation was so intense and creative that our memory will be that of working with one of the truly great designers and mentors.”

Groundplan of Apple Campus II

In the sixth months since his resignation, the legend of Steve Jobs’s genius has taken on near-mythic proportions. He will be canonized as the most innovative thought leader of our time, and for good reason. Jobs’ achievements in software and electronic development, industrial design, and marketing will not likely be matched anytime soon, nor his contributions be forgotten.

Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement address, “How to Live Before You Die,” seems an appropriate way to end a post remembering someone who most certainly took his own advice.

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