Staying hungry and foolish.

steve  jobs


Steve Jobs changed my life for the better. I started out as a designer and illustrator before Macs. Hours were spent practicing with a drawing pen to do crop marks. Type was expensive. You paid  by the character and had to be precise when character counting and specifying type. Ideas were hard things to translate into finished designs. I can still remember the smell of the wax used for past-up. I was experimenting with the Apple II and learning to program in basic.

The Mac transformed the graphic industry in a few short years. I went from the ‘Queen of paste-up’ to getting fan mail for work as a rock magazine designer and whizzing around in a limo. In 1987 I produced a monthly rock magazine called Performer on a fat Mac with a whopping 512k of memory. The computer was hideously expensive in today’s money. It was $4,000 CDA. This was a foolish thing to do as it was a massive investment equating to about 3 months of my salary at the time.

It was a fun time. The last day was a heavy day. We would get the ‘sheets’ back from the output house and then have to manually strip in changes and stick photocopies with hand image sizing marks to the boards for the film house. We rarely got out of the office by midnight. This was a revolution. 3 years later Performer Magazine was sold and I was enjoying a considerably much higher salary in digital design.

drawing pen

5 minutes to do crop marks

The early days were weird times. Art directors and designers didn’t use computers. They were for the ‘production people’. Art directors hung out in bars armed with markers and came back slurring their words and thrusting a cocktail napkin at you of their latest brain wave. I couldn’t understand how such a inovative tool should get slung to the back of the ranks and not get used creatively. There was a dismissive attitude towards computers from people and companies that stood to gain the most from them.

There was also a fear that they would leave people infertile or cause medical problems. I actually had people tell me that if I continued to use computers they would make me less creative and smart. Foolishly I ignored their advice and continued to use them during my childbearing prime. Mac went through a lot of years where it was considered weird and didn’t fit in the status quo. Sounds silly now to think that people reacted like that.

Then there would be the “Mac vs PCs” lab tests and these failed to sway me away from Apple products. Apple products are a “‘joy to use” something missing from most tests that focussed on screen resolution and processing power.

It was a fight to get an Apple into most companies I worked for.  The IT department moaned about the most about networking, security and cost. File sharing was a nightmare. I was known as the “Mac Girl”. This caused quite a bit of friction at times and made me unpopular and different.

IT departments didn’t see design as a value. Nor did companies. Usability was almost a dirty word and design was referred to as ‘fluffy’. It was only the marketing and advertising agencies that cared about design. No one thought this was important for heavy task, process and office work. Something happens when you start using a Mac and seeing how simple and pleasurable applications can be.

The time is takes to build badly designed software and well designed software is the same. The costs of the design will pay for itself. Yet daily I still have this battle to get more design thinking inlcuded. Steve had a super power that I wish I had. He could talk people into anything. The people at Apple would call it Steve’s Reality Distortion Field.

I was one of the 50,000 that bought a NeXT. I thought it was an amazing piece of kit and it did get me started on the inception of the web. Getting software was my main issue, so I went back to using Macs. But something was missing. Steve called it the ‘sex’.

Computers were still finding their way into the workplace and still ugly putty boxes. We all know the stereotypes of the hip cool Mac users using their Mac for music, media, games, and graphics and the starchy suited business types boasting of their processing power and cranking out spreadsheets. The reality turned has turned out different. Macs are used in business and some designers do design on PCs.

In ’95 I foolishly took part in a live radio debate “Apple VS Windows” and was introduced as the “mac girl”.

steve 1984

It just worked. You only had to focus on what you were doing, not how to use it.

The irony is that with all these battles of technologies it was never about technology. That is what is so brilliant about Steve Jobs. He knew that. He made technology about what you ‘could do’. Imagination was the key driver. He cared passionately about design and UX. “It should just work”. He made things that are a pleasure to use.

A lot of my work is designing backend systems and functional applications. In these enlightened days where everyone knows the importance of design and agrees that things should be easy to use, design is still an issue. I still have to fight for design and good user experience. Whenever I see a requirement for ‘Sharepoint out  of the box’ I roll my eyes and say, “here we go again”. It doesn’t matter if it is routine tasks or not. In fact it is the routine boring and everyday tasks that need the most design. Steve’s lasting legacy is about design and empowering users. He was known as a control freak who wanted things to be perfect. Apple was floundering when he returned and he came back and introduced the iMac. I bought mine in hot pink.  Company profits ensued.

Digital is about change. Everything changes. I read some where that the NeXT was a dismal failure. It was a fantastic machine and beautiful to use. The high cost was the main barrier, followed by software. Steve Berners Lee invented the web from it. Without it would we have the web? Everyone can do something powerful and make a lasting mark. The lasting mark Steve Jobs has left will be with us for a very, very long time. He did something very powerful and it actually has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with changing how we live.



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