Lessons I’ve Learned from Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs on the Cover of TIME © Cult of Mac

Steve Jobs on the Cover of TIME © Cult of Mac

Steve Jobs was an icon of the personal computer industry. In my opinion, there is only one other living human being who could equal or rival his celebrity status. That person is Bill Gates.

Their lives had many similarities and some differences. They both were brilliant. They both started their businesses several years after leaving college. They did not consider a college education tantamount to their success. They both grew up on the West Coast. Jobs took a class in calligraphy at Reed College that he said inspired him later as the multiple fonts and word spacing (kerning) manifested themselves in the Macintosh.

Steve and Bill © Wikipedia

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates © Wikipedia


But there were also the differences between them. As extraordinary as they both were as showmen and business titans, Steve was all about perfection and aesthetics never compromising for profit. Bill Gates was very focused on profit and simplicity of code. He has since been able to relinquished his throne to go on to global-community service. He last wrote his last lines of code in 1989. Steve battled through a liver transplant and pancreatic cancer while holding aloft the mantle of the brand for his firm, relinquishing the stewardship of it only when his health failed him. It was no more than a matter of six weeks between his resignation and passing.

Because I am an author with the Digital Brand Marketing Education Blog, I would like to focus my lessons learned from Steve Jobs on these four topics, Digital, Branding, Marketing, and Education.

Apple Logos © Wikipedia

Apple Logos © Wikipedia

Before the invention of the personal computer that Steve Jobs presented in his usual fanfare, pulling it by the handle out of a gym bag, mainframe computers took up entire rooms. The idea of a personal computer on every desk and in every home was viewed as preposterous if not impossible.

Apple I © Wikipedia

Apple I © Wikipedia

Steve acquired the original mouse technology from Xerox who could not commercialize on it but in an agreement let their engineers work with Apple in return for IPO offerings when it became commercial. The “GUI” (graphical user interface) allowed the development of graphics, images, and multiple fonts. It was the essential element that allowed the transition from a totally code and programmer based system to a user-friendly system. His team created the initial software and then other companies jumped on the bandwagon.

His leadership fostered a creative environment that let the team negotiate, innovate and create with a high standard.

The First Macintosh 1984 © Wikipedia

The First Macintosh 1984 © Wikipedia

Bill Gates was primarily a software man learning early on that he preferred more pedestrian, affordable PCs in contrast to the ‘elegant’ devices of Apple and then Macintosh. Bill’s goal was to mass-market software and for a while Microsoft was the proprietary software on all PCs. In contrast, Steve Jobs computers were and are geared to the connoisseurs in the industry.

Over time, the two companies did become more similar. With Windows, Microsoft adopted the more obvious mechanisms of the Mac, the mouse, and the programs in PC version and now Macs use the Intel processor. But Steve was the master of the brand. His mantra was perfection.

The Macintosh II © Wikipedia

The Macintosh II © Wikipedia

He would not let a product emerge from his laboratory into the public domain until he felt it had reached absolute perfection. The quality control with parts suppliers is one example. Perhaps this was a drain on his health compared to his, at least seemingly more laid back adversary, Mr. Gates. His interest was quantity over the level of quality that Jobs demanded without compromise. One wonders where Apple will be headed without Jobs. Microsoft seems unfettered by the resignation of Gates.

Jobs was a master at marketing. Just the mere rumor and then word of the emergence of a new or newer model of a product sent the Mac devotees to the stores where they would often camp out over night to be the first ‘kid on the block’ to have the latest version of whatever it was.

Apple Aficionados Wait in Line © Wikipedia

Apple Aficionados Wait in Line © Wikipedia

The presentations of his latest products were also impeccable examples of marketing and promotion. One year Ridley Scott, now a famed film and TV producer, was brought on board to create a memorable, even shocking Macintosh Super Bowl commercial. No one who has ever seen it will forget it.

When generations of the various Macs were born in irresistible, candy colored variations, potential consumers were tempted to not only purchase these mechanical wonders but agonized over which day-glow color to buy. That would be a major problem for me. I would want one in each color. Jobs combined perfection of design, streamlined elegance and hot colors.

1984, Superbowl XVIII Commercial  © Wikipedia

'1984' Superbowl XVIII Commercial © Wikipedia

Have you ever wondered why school systems buy and use Macs? If one is a student, there are special reduced price versions of the programs available and discounts on the computers themselves. What does that say about the quality of a Mac over a PC? I feel there is no more evidence necessary that ‘the proof is in the pudding’. Educational systems throughout the country chose to have their students learn on Macs, not PCs. They may have had to settle for PCs when their families both them their own. But the educational system provided only the best and most reliable quality control.

The iMac G3 1998 © Wikipedia

The iMac G3 1998 © Wikipedia

Steve Jobs has left an indelible mark on the world of technology and design. Much has been written about him before and since his passing. This post is but a peek at one small part of the universe he occupied. For me, his example showed there are some valuable lessons to be learned in Digital Brand Marketing Education.


What I learned from Steve Jobs by Guy Kawasaki

This Week’s Issue Of Time Magazine Has Steve Jobs On The Cover And The Story Behind His Upcoming Bio

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs: One Last Thing; R.I.P Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs on Wikipedia

Apple Computer on Wikipedia

Macintosh Computer on Wikipedia

Bill Gates on Wikipedia

The iMac 2007 © Wikipedia

The iMac 2007 © Wikipedia

Form versus Function in the History of the World Wide Web

According to an article in the Atlantic Monthly, the World Wide Web had its beginnings in 1945. Another documented source credits the invention of the web to much earlier times and attributes it to having its roots in the telephone and telegraph industry.

History of the Web

History of the Web © Computerworld.com

But the consensus is that the official year is 1989 when its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for managing the communication and sharing of information. That is credited for being the beginning of the World Wide Web.

History of the Web 2

History of the Web 2 © Computerworld.com

The beginnings of the World Wide Web as we know it became a reality with the invention of the four necessary building blocks: HTML, the Web protocol HTTP, a Web server and a basic browser.

History of the Web 3

History of the Web 3 © Computerworld.com

Out of the necessity for establishing some sort of guidelines and protocols, a volunteer organization called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was established in 1994. It made its home at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and had the responsibility for developing and maintaining common standards.

History of the Web 4

History of the Web 4 © Computerworld.com

“They set HTML as the standard for marking up web pages. This discouraged any single company from building a proprietary browser and programming language, which could have had a detrimental effect on the web as a whole. The W3C continues to set standards for open web markup and programming languages (such as JavaScript).”1

The first web page

The first web page © SixRevisions.com

This type of protocol was not new to the design industries. They had long histories of standards that went back centuries. But design had not come on the scene yet. That was to take a bit more time.

W3C (1998)

W3C (1998) © SixRevisions.com

The changes that have taken place in the 20-year history of the World Wide Web are staggering. The original database was composed of huge amounts of information and its success was based upon that information being accessible to others. At that point, the web belonged to the scientists, academia and industry.

W3C (2009)

W3C (2009) © SixRevisions.com

Design, designers and developers had no part in it, as its function required no visual information only listings and sharing of data. Additionally, even to this day there are still those who feel that design, visual imagery, and typography are superfluous to the Web.

Yahoo! (1996)

Yahoo! (1996) © SixRevisions.com

But that was all to change when it became apparent that much more could be done with the web than simply storing and sharing data. “Perhaps the single most important technological development in the history of the web, besides the creation of the web itself, was the development of graphical browsers in the early 90s.”

Yahoo! (2002)

Yahoo! (2002) © SixRevisions.com

“Beginning with NCSA’s Mosaic and its evolution into Netscape’s Navigator and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, these programs allowed users to browse the resources on the web in an extremely user friendly environment. This made the web a “fun” place and marked the beginning of the true web revolution.”2

“Soon the Web took on a commercial flavor, as cybermalls opened and closed, Yahoo became the major directory of Web sites and Amazon.com Inc. started selling books and music CDs.”3

With the evolution of the web and its growing functions, it became essential to create systems of organization or tables that allowed for visual material as well as all the additional technology that had become part of the mainstream of the web. Table-based designs grew in complexity, incorporating sliced-up background images, often giving the illusion of a simpler structure than the actual table layout.

Design over Structure

Design over Structure © SixRevisions.com

“This era of web layouts paid little attention to semantics and web accessibility, often opting for aesthetics over good markup structure. This was the same era where Spacer GIFs were popularized to control whitespace of web layouts. Some major companies even educated designers about the Spacer GIF; see Introducing the spacer GIF for use in HTML tables on Microsoft.com.”4

Yahoo! (2009)

Yahoo! (2009) © SixRevisions.com

“The development of the first WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web design applications, all of which used table-based layouts, increased the use of tables. In addition, some of those programs created tables so complex that many designers would never have created them from scratch (such as tables with rows only 1-pixel high and hundreds of cells). Designers had to rely on tables if they wanted to create designs that were even mildly complex (such as multi-column designs).”5

HTML5 & CSS3 Readiness

HTML5 & CSS3 Readiness © SixRevisions.com

But as time went on, the technical aspects of a site’s development started to take a front seat again. The requirements that web design and web development had filled again needed to include programming. Features like search engine optimization, shopping carts, and a myriad of other tools that required the use of complex coding began to overshadow the reign of the web design and returned the focus to the web’s internal wiring.

Design Perfectionism

Design Perfectionism © WebDesignLedger.com

Web designers, who had primarily been graphic designers before the advent of the web, found that much of what web developers, the coders and computer programmers were doing was unappealing visually and was lacking in what they understood to be good design.  Just as the W3C set standards for web language, standards in graphic design had long and deep traditions for the protocols of good design.

Not Web Design

Not Web Design™ © NotWebDesign.com

The web changed all that. Good design alone could not stand on its own when it came to the web. If a site did not do the job it was intended to do, it did and does not matter how visually attractive it is. As one firm puts it, “ Web design is not good web design if the visitor has to ‘think’ about it.”6

A site needs to flow; it needs to be navigated without having to ‘think’ about it. It is like riding a bicycle. Once you learn how, you just do it. You do not ‘think’ about doing it.

Michael Graves, teakettle by Alessi for Target

Michael Graves, teakettle by Alessi for Target © MIA

There can and needs to be a reasonable meeting ground where form and function co-habitate. This has been the challenge with many other fields of design, to create something functional that is also a thing of beauty. This point can be clearly illustrated by the increasing numbers of extremely successful designers who have carried over their individual brand to everyday products in superstores frequented by everyday folks rather than the wealthy for exclusivity.

Missoni for Target

Missoni for Target © Target.com

Architects like Michael Graves, fashion designers like Vera Wang and Jaclyn Smith, furniture designer, Cindy Crawford, textile/fashion designers like the Missoni Family, and the queen of home making herself, Martha Stewart have all lent their talents to create usable, tasteful, sometimes even works of art that are sold at affordable prices in the American Heartland’s superstores such as Target, Kmart, Wal-Mart and even Kohl’s.

The Battle between Apple and Adobe

The Battle between Apple and Adobe © Zeldman.com

The web is the next frontier where form and function initially collided but have learned to coexist. Although it is not always a happy marriage, it is just another day in the world where designers and programmers battle it out to see who has the upper hand for the moment. On some days, it is a standoff and in certain cases, a balance is struck. It is then that the music of the World Wide Web can be heard.


Web Awards © WebbyAwards.com

1. The Evolution of Web Design
2. History of the Web
3. The Story So Far: History of Web Sites
5. The Spacer GIF
6. Web Design vs. Web Development

Web Design & Development Guide: Spacer GIF
History of the Web and HTML

Things That Shaped the Web Design Industry in 2010
Several Articles about the Web
Practicing Perfectionism as a Web and Graphic Designer
Top fashion designers go down-market
Missoni for Target
From Towers to Teakettles: Michael Graves Architecture and Design
Target’s Newest Designer: Justin Timberlake!


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