Inspiring New Designers as Envisaged by Foundation Capital Partner Steve Vassallo

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Picture Credit: Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images

Foundation Capital Partner Steve Vassallo writes in FastcoDesign (a pretty cool alternative design feature) a tribute to the late Steve Jobs who he celebrates as the father of approachable design.

More than ever, we live in the design-minded world Steve Jobs helped usher in. No individual has more greatly influenced the role of design in tech, or is more responsible for raising consumer expectations for thoughtfully made products, than the late Apple co-founder. In the half decade since Jobs’s death, design has come into its own as competitive lever for businesses, a set of practices for solving important problems, even a method for optimizing your life.

Now, co-founder Steve Wozniak above deserves some credit too as he points out that Walter Isaacson 2011 biography adaptation by Aaron Sorkin over-amps Jobs’ role in certain settings- like a lot, Woz says. He notes that he spoke to CEO John Scully to defend the Apple II team, not Jobs, when the team threatened to quit. Woz also encouraged the famous ‘1984’ ad for the Super Bowl even when the board rejected it – even offering to split the $800K ad cost. Woz was recruited to return to Apple by Jobs but declined, though he still admires Apple, which has rallied due to the continued problems Samsung has had with the Galaxy 7 (market value impact of over $20B today from the recall, Bloomberg reports).

Now Vassallo does lay out some excellent design lessons from Jobs’ Apple tenure including:

1. Be Wildly Ambitious.
First, you need colossal ambition. It’s rare that massive new product categories are launched at established companies. But after Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, he did it five times. (This summer’s sale of the 1 billionth iPhone) demonstrates people’s insistence that their interactions with technology be frictionless and delightful.

2. Think Big And Small.
The stories that get told about Jobs are always of how exacting he was, down to the type of wood tables he wanted for the Apple Stores. So, there’s no doubt that Jobs was a designer’s designer down to his marrow, and these sorts of stories make for good copy. But the under-reported feature of his success was how adept he was at switching focal points and letting go of his fixation on simply the product.

3. Tell Persuasive Stories.
Another aspect to being Steve Jobs was his gift for storytelling—his uncanny skill at reading the audience, finding the right way to frame a story, and galvanizing others around a shared (re: his) vision. The “one more thing” teaser that Jobs used to drive journalists and Apple enthusiasts wild with at big keynotes wasn’t a function of his charm—it was an old narrative trick called a cliffhanger. Great storytelling can be your most powerful tool for disseminating and scaling your vision.

4. Let The (Other) Geniuses Thrive.
Lastly, Steve Jobs is remembered as a singular genius, but a key component to his genius was his ability to find talented people and rally them around his cause. Without Steve Wozniak’s engineering prowess, Jony Ive’s keen design acumen, or Tim Cook’s gift for building out unrivaled supply chains—Jobs would not have been able to produce the first Apple computer or the iPod, or manufacture an iPhone that didn’t retail for $4,000. Healthy as his ego was, Jobs wasn’t deluded about this fact. He once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” Steve Jobs’s true brilliance was in designing a system for repeatable genius.

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