Just after Steve took over from Amelio as iCEO, Jony Ive was about to quit:
Amelio had little appreciation for design. “There wasn’t that feeling of putting care into a product, because we were trying to maximise the money we made,” Ive said. “All they wanted from us designers was a model of what something was supposed to look like on the outside, and then engineers would make it as cheap as possible.”
The most challenging environment a designer can work in, is an environment such as this. One where there is little appreciation for design. But, the slowest death a designer can die is to ignore it and decide to do nothing about it.
The world is crammed with these kinds of environments. It is our responsibility as designers to be a change agent. Sometimes we are saved by a Steve Jobs that walks through the door, other times we need to be the Steve Jobs…
Throughout his whole life, Steve Jobs’ houses remained as simple as the products he envisioned more than 30 years ago. I had the privilege to take a selfie at one of them while spending time with the invi team in Palo Alto.) It wasn’t fancy in any way. As Walter Isaacson recollected in his autobiography of Steve:
…the homes were not ostentatious and there were no high hedges or long drives shielding them from view. Instead, houses were nestled on lots next to each other along flat, quiet streets flanked by wide sidewalks. ‘We wanted to live in a neighborhood where kids could walk to see friends,’ Jobs later said.
As I wandered through Isaacs’ carefully woven pages, I bumped into a paragraph reminiscing the process Jobs and his family went through to choose a new washing machine for their new home:
It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out they wash them with about a quarter as much water and clothes end up with a less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer and they last a lot longer. We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also a lot about the values of our family. Did we care more about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spend about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table.
They ended up getting a Miele washer and dryer, made in Germany.
The story speaks about a form of intentionality that is quite extreme but never the less gives a brilliant portrayal of how Apple was created. With intent – asking very specific questions in order to end up with the best possible conclusion.
What struck me most in this story is how Steve and his family weighed their options against their values to end up with a product that would work and fit their values better.
We recently went through a similar decision making process where we decided not to split our production and account team into two different offices, purely because one of our core values at Mabua is family, and the rift would have compromised this and some of our other values.
At Mabua we believe that great products are not only a result of intentional designs and great strategy but also about being very intentional about the values we stand for.
And sometimes it means saying no to what seems like a great opportunity…
Even though he was one of the richest men in the world, Henry Ford remained a simple man who loved a home cooked meal and some afternoon work on his farm. But as the T-Model grew as a dramatically successful car, news headlines multiplied as well:
His money didn’t change him but he started to believe the headlines and it became very evident as well…
There is a particular story in Ford’s history after which he returned from a European jaunt to find a new prototype built by one of his ace production men, William Knudson. It was supposed to be a successor to the model T. His mechanics reported how he would go berserk at times, including this time.
Ford had his hands in his pockets, and he walked around (the) car three or four times. Finally, he got to the left-hand side of the car, and he takes hold of the door, and bang! He ripped the door right off! He jumped in there, and bang goes the other door. Bang goes the windshield. He wrecked the car as much as he could.
Ford loved his T-Model so much that he barely wanted to change a bolt on it. He refused to change until competitive necessity forced him to create the A-Model.
It’s a compelling story. But it’s more than that. It’s a story that speaks about us as designers and developers and how we lead those who follow us. Like Ford helped shape the future of transportation, we are busy creating the future of digital interactions; a future that will be a result of change. Or a lack of that.
I’ve come to see over the past few months that the best designs does not come by waking up one morning, thinking that a client’s website needs to change. Or by just reading another article or copying the latest one-page-flat-parallax trend?
As I wrote in my previous article about the rise of genius design, the best designs come through collaboration and collaboration doesn’t happen until I change into a collaborative person. And that requires personal change first.
Refusing to change will result in creating what Happy Cog calls yet another site that looks just the same.
I’m deeply moved by Howard Hendricks wisdom on change from his book, Teaching to Change Lives:
“How have you changed lately? In the last week, let’s say? Or in the last month? The last year? Can you be very specific? Or must your answer be incredible vague? You say you’re growing. Okay… how? ‘Well,’ you say, ‘In all kinds of ways.’ Great! Name one. You see effective teaching only comes through a changed person. The more you change, the more you become an instrument of change in the lives of others. If you want to become a change agent you also must change.”
Yes, I’m a designer in Durbanville, Cape Town, but I also want to be a change agent in my community. And in order for me to be that person, I have to change first.
I hope you will change with me…