Aesthetic Exploration 2020: Steve Jobs and Apple

It is possible that this post will be divisive in some way. The majority of my peers in engineering shun Apple computers either because of the price, the “weak” computer specs, or the inability to run certain softwares. Regardless, the aesthetic of Apple and the careful consideration put into its products is a big reason why their customers keep coming back. The reality is, their products just work, and they look pretty. This all started with Steve Jobs’ vision. 

Steve Jobs attributed Apple’s aesthetic to the style of homes and architecture around him; namely, the Eichler style home with wood-paneled walls and floor-to-ceiling glass windows made popular in California in the 1950s-1970s by Joseph Eichler.[1] This style is said to be the quintessential example of mid-century modern and California-modern architecture and have influenced design across many industries. It’s possible to investigate Eichler style homes as its own aesthetic since this design style was a major player in bringing postmodernism to architecture, but it was this essence of design that inspired Steve Jobs: simplicity and reproducibility. 

Eichler Style Home 1

Eichler Style Home 1. Credit: [2]

Eichler Style Home 2. Credit: [3]

In fact, Apple’s first advertisement headline in 1977 read, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” (This quote is often attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.) In engineering design, simplicity is often more valued than complexity as the more simpler solution is most of the time the most optimal solution. We are also reminded of this concept with the common KISS mentality (keep it simple, stupid). 

In the early years of Apple, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, “We will make them bright and pure and honest about being high-tech, rather than a heavy industrial look of black, black, black, black, like Sony. The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.” This is evident when investigating or using most of Apple’s products: clean lines, smooth finishes, curvatures, and white in color. The goal was to create high-tech products and present them as attractive and beautiful, ultimately generating this connection and desirability between tech and humans. 

This entire mantra of simplicity was also incorporated into Apple’s software and user interfaces. The goal was to make everything easy to use and obvious in order to further expand on this human-technology connection. Most of the ways we interact with technology nowadays was inspired by the one and only Steve Jobs: the swipe, flick, pinch, double tap, for example. Take a second to think about any and every smartphone on the market. They all borrow something (or a lot of things) from the iPhone, and there is a reason for that. Jobs found a way to market technology to a major consumer base by designing Apple’s devices simply and making them obvious to use. It is safe to say that without Steve Jobs, we wouldn’t interact with smartphones and computers the way we do today.

Steve Jobs and Apple was one of the first companies in Silicon Valley to incorporate industrial design. Jobs wanted the products to be “friendly” inside and out.[7] If you have ever opened up an iPhone or a MacBook, these traits are evident. The boards, speakers, battery, hard drives, etc. are all so neatly packed into the frame and anchored down in a systematic way. This was also largely due to Jobs’ and Jony Ive’s (former Chief Design Officer at Apple) concept of reducing the device down to its essentials and allowing the device to embody the simplicity inside and out. Of course, this may not be appealing to the “I’m building my own computer” type of consumer, however, for the majority of the consumers, this is appealing. Most consumers don’t feel a need to open the device up and just want to plug the device in and have it work. But, Jobs didn’t care if the consumer was to open up the device or not and still persistently ensured the design to be appealing on the inside as well as outside. 

Inside iPhone 11. Credit: [4]

Inside MacBook. Credit: Jason Wolf [5]

Apple’s products incorporate this perfect synergy between design for manufacturability, design for assembly, and industrial design. Almost all of Apple’s products over the years has had some type of longterm effect on how future technology was to be developed and interacted with. Since Jobs’ passing, it can be argued that the company has lost sight of some of these early on mantras and mindsets set forth by Jobs, but nonetheless, their flagship products still represent these attitudes to a high degree. It is hard to recognize this simplicity and obviousness that these products are built from because the way we interact with technology nowadays is so innate and intrinsic. After all, how else would you get to the next photo in your album or drag a folder to another directory than just simply swiping to the next photo, or dragging and dropping?

NYC Apple Store. Resembles the Eichler aesthetic. Credit [6]

[1] Isaacson, Walter. “How Steve Jobs’ Love of Simplicity Fueled A Design Revolution.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Sept. 2012, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-steve-jobs-love-of-simplicity-fueled-a-design-revolution-23868877/.

[2] “Eichler Home Remodeling Ideas Photo Gallery.” Real Estate Website, www.eichlerforsale.com/eichler-remodeling-ideas.php.

[3] “What Is an Eichler Home? Here’s Everything You Need to Know.” Nonagon Style, 5 July 2018, nonagon.style/what-is-an-eichler-home/.

[4] Potuck, Michael, and Michael. “IFixit Shares Fun IPhone 11 and 11 Pro Internal and x-Ray Wallpapers.” 9to5Mac, 23 Sept. 2019, 9to5mac.com/2019/09/23/iphone-11-x-ray-internal-wallpaper/.

[5] Wolf, Jason. “‘Inside the New Macbook’ HD Wallpaper: Newest Macbook pro, Macbook pro, Macbook pro Retina.” Pinterest, www.pinterest.es/pin/497295983824116993/.

[6] “Top 50 Flagship Stores in the World.” Insider Trends, 7 July 2017, www.insider-trends.com/top-50-flagship-stores-in-the-world/.

[7] Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

[8] Lillington, Karlin. “Subscriber Only: IPhone at 10 – Design Genius That Brought Us under Steve Jobs’s Spell.” The Irish Times, 12 Jan. 2017, www.irishtimes.com/business/technology/iphone-at-10-design-genius-that-brought-us-under-steve-jobs-s-spell-1.2933374?mode=sample&auth-failed=1&pw-origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.irishtimes.com%2Fbusiness%2Ftechnology%2Fiphone-at-10-design-genius-that-brought-us-under-steve-jobs-s-spell-1.2933374.

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Danny-
    Great post and a great amount of detail about the type of aesthetic that Steve Jobs instilled into Apple’s core. Your analysis gave a detailed descriptive of Steve Job’s goal and vision for simplicity, and I agree that it’s one of the biggest appeals to its products. Apple has one of the best balances of aesthetic, performance, and it’s user-friendliness, iterated well inside your blog. I do not have many questions as your ideas are well developed, but, i’d like to ask: if Steve Jobs were still alive, how do you think the products that Apple has released posthumously would be different, namely the iPhone and its subsequent iterations?

    Reply
    • Daniel Straub
      Daniel Straub
      January 27, 2020 1:09 pm

      Hi Will. Thanks for your comment. Steve Jobs was a perfectionist and was insanely consumed by the details of his products (hardware and software). In the last few years, Apple has been prematurely making promises to deliver products and falling short. A major example was the AirPower product that would allow its users to wirelessly charge their iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch all in one product. Apple consumers were waiting for the product for years only for Apple to announce that the project would be discontinued and the product wouldn’t be developed. This has happened a few different times through out the years since Steve Jobs passed away, and I don’t think Apple would have prematurely advertised one of its products if Jobs was still around. Another big issue with Apple is their changes in the UI and the bugginess of its software. iOS 13 was a disaster in terms of it being ready for launch last Fall. Although the new tariffs set in place last year effected their production, the iPhone 11 was launched with a buggy iOS 13.0 (it was a beta) and users were told to update immediately. There are also many changes to iOS that have not really made the user’s experience any better and seemed to be blind changes. These kinds of issues are antagonistic to Jobs’ keen attention to detail and I think he would have been able to steer the company in a better direction.

      Reply
  • Daniel,
    It is interesting as you pointed out the framework of marketing that Apple sent forward and how we can see how other companies have adopted it, an example that comes to mind is Nike. Looking at all their most recent designs with team uniforms and general gear. They mostly just use simple colored background with big bold letters and their logo but nothing more. It’s as if Steve Jobs created his own aesthetic by combining a few such as minimalist design as well as incorporating futuristic art. And I like how you pointed out that Jobs appealed to the masses by creating something that was so easy to interact with while maintaining every functionality. I am curious to know how you think the Apple brand will grow and what it will look like in the next 5 – 10 years without Jobs? Do you think they will maintain a similar aesthetic or do you think we could see a big change in the Apple brand?

    Reply
    • Daniel Straub
      Daniel Straub
      January 27, 2020 9:25 am

      Austin,

      Thanks for you comment. That is an interesting point about Nike. I hadn’t thought of their branding in this way. As far as Apple goes, I believe they have gone somewhat down hill since Steve Jobs’ passing. This is evident in a lot of their user interfaces and buggy software in the last few years. I don’t believe this would have happened if Steve Jobs were still here. In addition with the loss of Jony Ive, I think their products are going to take a hit in terms of industrial design. I believe Apple will try to preserve this aesthetic in general, but it is hard to say to what degree it will change.

      Reply
  • Hi Daniel,
    I was pretty intrigued for the first time to read about Apple as you said some people hold reservations against it (me being one of them). You offered great insight on what inspired Steve Jobs to come up with such simplistic and straight-forward designs. The principle that Apple follows is pragmatic considering simplicity in design is the best policy. Though Apple has been making market-leading products for quite sometime now, don’t you think it is still arguable that it is a fairly over-priced brand considering all of its pros and cons. Also, as we speak of brands, we see all the different brands trying to penetrate through the market by a wide range of products in different price ranges. Why do you think Apple doesn’t do that? Well the post was very informative about the brand itself and it’s rich heritage. Hope to see more interesting posts moving forward.

    Reply
    • Daniel Straub
      Daniel Straub
      January 27, 2020 9:41 am

      Sarthak,

      Thanks for your comment. I am glad you found my post interesting. I do agree that there is an “Apple tax” on their products, but I also believe people are willing to pay it for the reasons I explained above: their products just work, they are appealing to the eye, they have an aesthetic, etc. It is no different than high end brands of clothing or other products. There will always be a tax for them. I do acknowledge that many brands have tried to reinvent Apple products at a smaller price point, however, have found that none of them work as well (especially phones). The iPhone, although it can be buggy especially in this early stages of software releases, is the best phone on the market in my opinion. I have used a couple other and they are extremely buggy and the UI is difficult to use. Apple is attempting to release “more inexpensive” phones in their releases. We will see this in the new iPhone SE/9 this year. However, phones are not inexpensive in general. They are almost as powerful as our computers nowadays, and it is tough to even find a computer with the same specs for less than the price of an iPhone. As far as computers go, I do agree that Apple could cut down on the price, however, once a consumer buys into Apple’s ecosystem, it can be too incisive and convenient to not use an Apple Watch, MacBook, AirPods, etc. I am curious why many people dislike and dismiss Apple products. Is it because of the price point? The specs of the devices? How “locked down” the devices are? All in all, the point of my post was that we wouldn’t have smartphones or interact with the technology we have in the same way if it weren’t for Steve Jobs and Apple, and it would be hard to say if technology would have an aesthetic in general without him. Apple sets the bar for quality among consumer electronics and their high price point comes with it.

      Reply

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