Dave McCourt thinks some thoughts...

Steve Jobs and me

Posted in: Design

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple died on 5 October 2011. For someone I’d never met he had a huge impact on my life – a life which has increasingly been dependent on technology for both work and pleasure.

I first used a Mac in 1993. I’d used computers before, having had a variety of ZX Spectrums when I was a teenager. Despite what my parents hoped, I only ever used my ‘Speccy’ for games and the truth was computers were a bit complicated and frightening. Only geeks used computers for anything other than gaming back then. After the novelty wore off, I didn’t really use computers until I went to university. GCSEs and A levels were all passed with handwriting and death by OHP (that’s the boredom of ‘overhead projectors’ presentations to anyone under 30). Looking back this is quite startling – my children (now 4 and 6) have been using computers at home and school for years. It is quite surprising how we ever got anything done back in the old days.

I remember my first lesson of how to use a Mac – it was in a classroom at University with a row of tall, vanilla boxes set on desks. I was scared as I didn’t want to look like an idiot and I assumed everyone else knew lots about computers. I turned on my Mac Classic and a happy Mac faced stared back at me. And when it loaded up there were nice icons and a pointy thing you could move with a mouse. It wasn’t like the ZX Spectrum and it’s daunting faceless screen where you had to type to tell it what you wanted it to do. This Mac had an ease of use and friendliness which made me feel comfortable almost straight away even though that the first lesson was using Word on floppy disc.

From then I quickly gained in confidence with Macs and how they worked. At my first few jobs I learned as much as I could and before long people were calling me up asking how to set this and that up. I became a bit of a Mac geek. Using a Mac wasn’t part of the mainstream – I’d only started with Macs because they were what we used at Uni and they were the only computer you could really use for creative work like design. Everyone used PCs and many people didn’t even know what a Mac was. Working on a Mac was part of an invisible cult – meeting other Mac users was like finding a kindred spirit – a bit like VW camper drivers beeping to each other acknowledging their superior choices in life.

What PC users didn’t know until recently at least, was how easy and enjoyable it was to use a Mac. ‘It just works’ was a one time Apple marketing slogan but it was based on truth. When you know or use something that you think is great, you want to tell others: why are you using that piece of crap, why don’t you get a Mac? Thus, I became a Mac evangelist and I wasn’t alone – many others were the same. These days we’re called Mac fanboys but back then it was a ‘then and us’ world and the only way to spread the message was to tell everyone you met. The church of Apple had to be spread. It generally wasn’t very successful though and Macs were only used by around 2 or 3 per cent of all computer users, mostly because they were so expensive. There were dark days and it looked at one point that Apple might go out of business.

Then Steve Jobs came back from the wilderness after being ousted several years earlier. He’d basically become too big for his boots and irritated too many people. But Apple had lost its way without him and when he came back, he created a company of A-players and together with Jonny Ive made some of the most iconic products of the past 20 years, if not all time. The Mac revolutionised desktop publishing (DTP as it was called then), the iMac put simple-to-use, internet-connected computers in many homes, the iPod and iTunes changed and saved the music industry, the iPhone changed phones and mobile computing and the iPad introduced a device no one knew they needed but quickly became indispensible.

Back in the days of the 90s there were naysayers that Apple was too small and niche to be significant. Now Apple has just announced profits that are truly staggering and there are naysayers that complain that Apple is too big and dominating.

Steve Jobs built Apple from his parents’ garage to be the most valuable company in the world. His vision to make things useful, easy to use and beautiful is the epitome of what design is. Form and function. Of course he also knew how to manipulate people and to market the desire for his vision and products. He wasn’t an inventor but he was astute at seeing opportunities others were blind to. History has many examples of things coming together at the right time to create something new: the invention of the printing press was dependent on mass-produced paper being available amongst other things. The difference with Jobs was he saw opportunities time and time again. He may not have been the first with things either but he made them work many, many times better than anyone else and raised the bar of expectation.

In my work life I’ve always used Macs and they’ve made my life choices easier, and even created choices for me that perhaps would not have existed otherwise. When I was made redundant the opportunity to go it alone was there because the iMac had just been born and was powerful and affordable. If it has been like previous powerhouse graphics computers and priced in the thousands instead of the hundreds, my life would have been very different.

Thank you Steve.