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How Steve Jobs Changed The World Of Design

Oct 7, 2011
Originally published on October 7, 2011 10:55 am
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LYNN NEARY, host: Steve Jobs, of course, had a big impact on the world of technology. But as fans mourn his death, he's also being remembered for how he changed the world of design. From candy-colored iMacs to seemingly magical covers for the iPad 2, Apple products are something you want to look at and play with. Even the packaging plays to your senses.

For more on Jobs' design legacy, I spoke with John Maeda. He's president of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Thanks for joining us.

JOHN MAEDA: Thank you.

NEARY: So how will Steve Jobs be remembered by designers such as yourself?

I think that Steve Jobs will be remembered as the designer who put design in the map of technology, which has transformed our lives. I think without him everything would be quite different.

How would you characterize his design style?

MAEDA: Well, it goes back to my beginnings where I was an Apple II owner. I remember buying the first Macintosh, getting on a plane to go to my first year at MIT. At MIT, all my upper classmen friends had IBM PCs, which was the macho computer. And I had the sissy computer. And what I could see is that they saw it as a sissy because it draws pictures. Who needs pictures? It looks strange. Why does it have to look strange?

And so I think that he was showing to the technology era, the people around it, that it wasn't about faster, bigger, etcetera. It was having something that makes an emotional connection to people.

NEARY: It's almost as if for many people the technology followed their interest in the design. They were more interested in the way it looked, and that appealed to them as a consumer, and then they discovered the technology after that.

MAEDA: Exactly. Because technology is driven by mathematics. Think about STEM subjects in America - science, technology, engineering and math - S-T-E-M. I think Steve Jobs showed us we can add art to STEM, turn STEM into STEAM.

NEARY: Why did he think design was so important? I mean, he was very insightful about that.

MAEDA: It's clear that he understand that technology alone could not be something you wanted to live with. Think about all the MP3 players, the digital music players, that were out for a long time. There were roughly 12 or so of them. And nobody wanted a digital music player until he and his team saw how the iPod isn't just a music player, it's a way to experience music, to live with it, to purchase it, to honor it, to own it. He made it into an emotional experience. And that's what design is about.

NEARY: How much did he influence the design of competitors and other companies aside from Apple?

MAEDA: Oh, I've consulted for so many companies that wish they were Apple. They've all tried to emulate Apple. You know, make a white box or make it shiny or make it blink or whatever. But what is always missing is the leadership. Steve Jobs represented a different kind of leader.

NEARY: What do you think is his single greatest design achievement?

MAEDA: I think his single greatest design is the Apple organization, an organization that actually cares about design more than technology.

NEARY: So does this leave a sort of huge gap in the world of design?

MAEDA: I definitely think so. It's because he's someone who stood for something. And by standing for something, the younger generation around him will want to honor that and want to carry it forward. So I think if anything he's inspiring not just designers, technologists, CEOs, all kinds of people, to be bold, to be visionary and to try things out, try things out that are great.

NEARY: Thanks so much for being with us.

MAEDA: Thank you.

NEARY: That was John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.