Steve Jobs showed us how to marry technology with the liberal arts

Steve Jobs was a performer. When I worked at a university, I remember being called over to Alex Kluge's desk: "Steve Jobs is going to be streaming in a few minutes. Alex has it set up." This was back in the late 1990's when Apple was struggling, and it was not clear how they'd make it. We gathered around the largest monitor I had ever seen. Alex made sure the video was working, then he went full-screen. We all stared and saw Steve deliver something so advanced, so unexpectedly lovely that I heard some engineers and professors swearing and cussing, and saw them squint in disbelief. A few of us watching that day later became software designers. We have Steve to thank.

Steve's presentations made it clear that design was not about how things looked—it was not a shiny, happy face. Design was how things worked. His commitment to making software user interfaces smarter, better, as well as lovelier and more delightful, is part of what drew me into a career of designing software. Steve made designing seem fun, worthwhile, virtuous—and this is key—maybe a little disruptive, a little rebellious.

Many years later, I talked with people who worked with Steve, long after Apple was successful, and they told me that it was not unusual for Steve to want to see early designs, so that he could print out screens and mark them up, and comment on them, not in the collegial way a professor comments on and corrects a student's paper, but in the autocratic way that a dictator makes his requirements known. People would dread this process because it could mean huge delays as the user experience and UI was refactored, bit by bit. These people also told me it was hell to work in that situation.

Steve was a humanist and a technologist. It seems clear now that this mix of values and worldviews was what made Apple products so useful and different from the Wonder bread that everyone ate at the time. Steve liked typography. He was a buddhist. He lived on an ashram, and smoked weed and probably dropped acid, and he was shrewd and capable of making unpopular, risky business decisions (like revoking the Apple clone licenses).

The obituary published by The Economist says: (
“Technology alone is not enough,” said Mr Jobs at the end of his speech introducing the iPad, in January 2010. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Comments (3)

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Well Steve really changed the

Well Steve really changed the way we used our mobile phone and products from Apple are the best in its class.

[editor: removed spammy link]