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Opinion

Steve Jobs and his art of simplicity

To Apple's Steve Jobs, design was not just a matter of aesthetics. It was also the experience of using products. His genius was in blending design and experience, tuning in to our complex lives and helping us orchestrate them. Just ask my mom.

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Jobs understood that, in turn, we needed tools that didn’t mirror our increasingly complicated lives, but just the opposite – tools that oriented us, accompanied us, made our lives less heavy to heave around. Within his little black and white boxes we found that our days, our networks, our ideas, were more containable, and at the same time, ever expanding.

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Industrial designer Yves Béhar captures Jobs well: “He has given a large portion of the population a way to engage in our daily digital culture,” Mr. Béhar wrote yesterday in Forbes. “Thanks to his tools, we are all a part of an ever-growing creative class.”

Jobs democratized design and technology – previously viewed as costly luxuries – across cultures and generations. I can’t help but think of my mom, a nurse and mother of six from Milwaukee, Wis. Not a day passes without a typed missive, photo, or video captured on and sent from her iPhone to one of us kin, no matter where we are in the world. Apple products have made her feel more connected and more alive than ever – an artist, a jokester, photographer, videographer.

It’s done much of the same for my two year-old niece, who has her own, precarious way of holding her mom’s iPhone with her pudgy little fingers. She lights up, captivated every time the iPhone comes to life.

Jobs was the master of that moment, which he built into a world stage of Apple’s product unveilings.

“He always talks about how wonderous it will be to use something, to actually live with it, and hold it in your hands,” wrote Fast Company’s Cliff Kuang at the time of Jobs’s resignation in August. “If you listen to Steve Jobs’s presentations over the years, he comes across not as the creator of a product so much as its very first fan – the first person to digest its possibilities.”

The architect of gorgeous gadgets and intuitive interfaces, Jobs was even more so an anthropologist of the good life. He wanted his designs to transform lives – how we work, how we learn, how we love, travel, create, communicate, and live. He believed they could.

Ironically, the success of his mission was never so obvious as that fateful moment that his death reverberated across his network of life-altering inventions, and into our hearts.

John Cary is editor of Public­Inter­est­Design.org and author of “The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients.” He writes and speaks widely on architecture, design, public service, and social justice.

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