I’ve been thinking about Steve Jobs tonight, obviously. I have never owned a computer that was not an Apple. I worked somewhere once where I had to use a PC, and the UI experience was like being forced to wear some sort of Medieval torture helmet while trying to operate a computer; every operation was counterintuitive and frustrating. Nothing was where it belonged. Apart from my fundamental incompatibility with the Windows OS, at the end of the day I think I understand why I hated it so much: it was ugly. And that’s why I, like so many others, love Apple so much and are deeply saddened at his death (at 56, a year younger than my Mother was and from the same disease that took my Father-in-Law). It’s because his work was so beautiful.
Not just as sleek, desirable objects, but because they’re so clean and logical and seamless to operate (almost always). Beauty in industrial and graphic design is different from purely artistic beauty, because where the latter takes you outside yourself and shows you something you have never experienced before, allowing your mind to see the world differently forever, the former allows you to revel in the very real-world experience of getting your own work done more efficiently. That pleasure–the joy in productivity, and the thrill of ease–colors the experience of work, making it feel less like work.
And ironically for such a colossus of industry, Steve Jobs did more to realize Marx’s observation that the workers control the means of production than anyone else. Fields where professional results were unobtainable by non-initiates or amateurs (movies and music especially) became democratized in the extreme in part because of his tireless drive to make tools that worked as well as possible. There are plenty of valid critiques to be made, but it’s important to focus on why the man changed so many peoples’ lives, and why I choked up looking at the Apple homepage this evening. The tireless, exacting, and successful pursuit of a vision is commendable. When that vision and its execution are beautiful to look at, to understand, and to use, that’s genius. The world needs more of such beauty.