I was thinking about Steve Jobs’ legacy, and the work he did over his life. Apple certainly did produce some amazing products; Macs, OS X, iDevices of all kinds, all had an amazing purity of form. The idea of such a stripped-back interface on an MP3 player seemed like black magic at the time, and you can see that striving for simplicity in all Apple’s designs.
I think that the kind of single-minded, pure vision was driven, to a large extent, by Jobs’ micro-managing, dictatorial style. It’s the kind of thing you can only really achieve when you’ve got a blank cheque to create your vision – when no-one is willing, or able, to say “no” to you.
We’re all, at times, struck by ideas that seem so simple, so elegant, so pure, that to change them in any way seems unnecessary, if not actually downright vandalism. But the way most people have to work is that your ideas are taken, dissected, discussed, altered and amended. You debate, you defend your bright ideas and sometimes you win, but all too often the things you know are right get shredded and deformed and other people get their way.
I’ve worked on a lot of projects where I’ve had an idealistic vision of the lofty heights we could reach, and then seen a committee or meeting blunder off in the opposite direction, leaving a wonderful idea choking in the dust. Or at least, that’s how it seems at the time.
If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that although I always think I’m right, I’m often wrong. The single-minded vision you have isn’t always the best one. Sometimes what seems like stupid suggestions are actually great ideas, and sometimes the annoying person who’s unwilling to look beyond their prejudices is actually you (that is to say, me).
The purity of vision and guru-ship of Steve Jobs brought us the iPhone, but it also meant that Mac users were stuck with a one-button mouse for years – a mouse with only one button, for crying out loud! Simple things like being able to resize program windows from any edge have only just crept into OS X.
Sometimes the most pure forms, the perfectly embodied visions of one person’s dream – the things that make people sit up and take notice, and become life-long fans – are not the best products. Those annoying extra features that people make you squeeze into your idea, that second button stuck onto your beautiful one-button mouse, might make it less of a spectacle but more of a useable, everyday, better product.
And then, of course, sometimes you are right and some damn fool seems to have dedicated their life to ruining a perfectly good project. Knowing that you’re not always right is one thing, but the real trick must be being able to recognise when you’re wrong – and when you should fight tooth and nail for an idea.