Steve Jobs’ Design Talent Gave Apple Distinctive Edge

Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ resignation has brought into focus his design innovations with the company, giving the company its competitive edge against rivals in a fast-moving industry.

Jobs had a strong hand in the design of such iconic products as the early all-in-one Macintosh computers and subsequent iPhones, iPads and iPods, all lauded for a clean simplicity and elegance rare in a market rife with clunky products. But he expanded into other creative endeavours, procuring patents for his designs, designing key elements of Apple’s distinctive flagship stores, and even envisioning a futuristic office campus.

But no matter if designing a phone, a building or a staircase, Jobs’ design sense emerges out of a commitment to functionality married with simplicity.

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” Jobs said in a 2003 New York Times interview. “People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Both small innovations and more ambitious projects illustrate how Jobs’ theory of design, strongly committed both functionality and minimalism, extends to even the smallest details and focuses on the look and feel of a product.

For example, Jobs designed the striking glass staircases in many of Apple’s stores, designed as “a monolithic glass member for supporting loads.” The glass staircases and walls from a key visual element in Apple’s lauded retail shops, which have become tourist destinations in and of their own right.

Jobs holds two patents for his staircase design. He has 313 design-related patents in total, including a lanyard for some iPod headsets, plastic power adapters for Macintosh computers, and even the cardboard packaging for many of the company’s devices and accessories.

Beyond elegant staircases and adhering to the “build no small things” architectural dictum, Apple this summer also announced plans to open a store in New York City’s iconic Grand Central Station, further elevating the company’s profile and continuing the company’s legacy of unique store locations.

The balconied location inside the station is expected to join Apple’s flagship location on 5th Avenue in New York City, with its 32-foot glass cube surrounding the store and 45-foot Genius Bar, which has wowed design enthusiasts and tourists since it opened in 2002.

It also follows Apple’s tallest retail store in Tokyo and its 2009 outlet in the heart of Paris’ Louvre Museum.

Most recently, Jobs presented plans for a “spaceship-like” office building for his company’s new headquarters, adding another credit to his record for unique design.

The new facility will be built on nearly 100 acres the company purchased from Hewlett-Packard last year, adjacent to the 50 acres it purchased four years earlier. It will stand four-stories tall and be completely circular, resembling a spaceship from “The Twilight Zone” series. Like Apple’s products, it uses pristine glass and other materials in a clean yet modernist way.

“There’s not a straight piece of glass in this building — it’s all curved,” Jobs said. “We know how to build the biggest pieces of glass for architectural use.”

Jobs’ many design projects reveals how he marries an engineer’s attention to functionality and detail with aesthetically elegant and efficient form, creating products and concepts that propelled the company to the top of the game.

They also highlight how Jobs’ singular cross-discipline design talent may be hard to replicate. While Apple’s design team is no doubt strong and likely were highly influenced by Jobs, many wonder how Apple’s innovations will continue without his insightful hand at the helm to guide them.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.

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