Steve Jobs

by Walter Isaacson


I recently attended a new meet-up in Glasgow for people who have a firm interest in user experience plus a few full-time UX professionals. The format involves a book being selected then discussed and debated twice monthly. I wrote about the first meeting in a post entitled Seduction Design.

At the end of that meeting the group agreed on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson as the next book to be discussed. Upon hearing this I was a little shocked. I had seen this book categorised under business, biography and now it was being shortlisted for a user experience club? I had always wanted to get a chance to read the real story of Steve's life and this was the perfect excuse for me to skip my ever-growing to-read list and justify this being next.

The book

I don't think Steve Jobs offers enough information about UX to be described as a UX book. Clean and simply it's a biography, although it does touch on many issues around the business including the unique experience Apple has built around its product as the book says in an "open" system world it really can't be mimicked, so there's not much of the technique that can be copied and applied to other media.

The book covers the great historical points when Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and the iPads came out. It also delves deep into how Apple differs from its market competitors. Mostly, however, the book is about the man himself, exploring how he built Apple up from nothing and some of the underlying beliefs that made him act the way he did. It also takes a look at his health, from his strange diets to the rounds of cancer he battled with. Now I don't want to write the book off simply because it's not about UX in itself I would give it 5/5 as it was a great read. I really enjoyed how he obsessed over even the unseen parts of the business, which reminded me of why we take pride in clean code under the hood of the site (the bit the client doesn't care about) as well as a nice visual on the front end. It could be deemed clinical to obsess to this level about things like the internals, but it does lead to a nicer result. A by-product of making people focus on every little detail is that they will never let the core of the product become sub-standard. It removes the risk of the design going off on tangents, although the book does refer to a few that seem to have slipped under the radar, leading to Jobs making the team start again.


The real designer of Apple?

For me another interesting point in the book was the introduction to product designer Jonathan Ive. Now perhaps to most of you he's very well known, but this is the first time I had heard of him and, by the sounds of it, most of the creative look, feel and sound design decisions for Apple came from Ives himself.

Closed vs Open

I can also see major advantages in their closed systems, one of which is the limited number of screen sizes. Jobs really hit that nail on the head. Google are an awesome company but you only have to do a quick search on mobile design or walk into a mobile phone store to find that they have restricted the industry to having to build in a far more feature-limited and flexible way to account for the 500-odd different handset sizes.

In closing

If you're interested in commerce, product design, presentation or Steve Jobs as a person I would highly recommend reading this book. I look forward to seeing what the other members of the UX club draw from their reading.

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