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Zen and the Art of Smartphone Development

How Steve Jobs’ obsession with simplicity found a perfect home in a very complex, pocket-sized device.
September 19, 2012

It’s no exaggeration to say that Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ives inspired a revolution in industrial product design. Their legacy can be seen in lots of products today, and not just those made by Apple.

The Smithsonian just published an interesting feature article that sheds a little light on the genesis of the Jobs-Ives design philosophy and how it interacted with the development of technology at Apple. The piece, How Steve Jobs’ Love of Simplicity Fueled a Design Revolution, was written by Walter Isaacson who also wrote a biography of Jobs, published last year.

Two things struck me as particularly interesting about the piece. First, the fact that Apple’s design team was considered just as important as the engineering team under Jobs’ rule—and often actually took precedence when it came to developing new products. And second, that Jobs’ and Ives’ obsession with design simplicity and ease-of-use became incredibly important with Apple’s groundbreaking mobile devices, especially the iPhone, where translating the complexity of the device into something that fits into a pocket and can be operated with one thumb presents a huge challenge.

This also helps explain why Apple cracked the smartphone before anyone else did. To make such a complex device attractive to the average you really have to focus heavily on the look, feel, and usability of the thing. This piece also makes it a little easier to understand why Jobs’ was so enraged when he saw people copying what now seem like such obvious, and intuitive, ideas.

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