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Jobs' innovation, and passion for a life's work

By Michael Graves, Special to CNN
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Fri October 7, 2011
Steve Jobs talks to reporters after announcing the release of product upgrades at a news conference in San Francisco in 2010.
Steve Jobs talks to reporters after announcing the release of product upgrades at a news conference in San Francisco in 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Designer Michael Graves says Steve Jobs added innovation to the designer's tool kit
  • He says Jobs recognized clean, well-staffed stores were all that was needed to show products
  • Jobs was aware illness would limit his time, wanted each day to make a contribution, he says
  • Graves: Jobs wanted to leave this world exhausted from his passion for his life's work

Editor's note: Michael Graves is the founder of Michael Graves & Associates & Michael Graves Design Group. He is credited with broadening the role of the architect in society and raising public interest in good design as essential to the quality of everyday life. Among his awards, he has received the 1999 National Medal of Arts, the 2001 Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, and the 2010 Topaz Medallion from the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, in recognition of his 39-year teaching career at Princeton University.

(CNN) -- For most designers, good design is neither just a well-functioning object nor a good-looking object, but rather both. I say both, as the simultaneity is crucial so that function and appearance support each other and, when done well, in a sense become indistinguishable.

In designing products, we consider these two attributes -- along with other factors such as budget, material capability and consumer response -- and add them to the mixture that constitutes design. What Steve Jobs did was to add yet another element: innovative marketing. Have you ever been in an Apple Store that isn't packed with people "just browsing?" They are there to soak up whatever Apple is and does. Who would ever have thought that bulky, wooden Parsons tables would be enough?

But you can bet on one thing: Jobs did not go to market research groups to find the answer. He knew that all each store would need, beyond its terrific merchandise, were bare essentials. Think about it: He didn't need flashing neon, he didn't need hip tunes blaring so that you couldn't hear each other, he didn't need wild colors or expensive materials. He simply needed a clean space with a sales force of people, each wearing an Apple T-shirt.

Michael Graves
Michael Graves

I gasp whenever I see, in a newspaper or magazine, a new restaurant where the designer has opted for outrage in his or her need to be the next cutting-edge idea, forgetting that the customer might just want a good place to eat with friends. I imagine that Jobs would not have had a hand in that type of scenario. He might simply have said, "It's not that difficult. After all, it's just about dinner."

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Designers often neglect the essence of innovation when they are overwhelmed with the requirements of the product they are designing. The Apple Store design, the product design, the hardware design and software design all come down to innovation -- something not tried before.

I am reminded of an apocryphal story about Pablo Picasso. Two frumpy ladies were standing in front of a cubist portrait of Gertrude Stein, or at least the label said "Gertrude Stein." One woman turned to her friend and said, "It doesn't look like Gertrude Stein." Whereupon Picasso, who happened to be standing behind them, said in a prophetic tone, "It will."

In a commencement address to Stanford University graduates that's been widely televised since his death, Jobs revealed something about himself that I, too, have felt intensely since I suffered paralysis. Of course, being aware that his illness would limit his time, he said that he wanted every day to be spent making a contribution.

One imagines that Jobs, given how much he loved doing what he did, wanted to leave this world exhausted from his passion for his life's work, for that's all that would give him rest.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Graves.

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