Photo credit to sabine.
I was sitting at Monk’s Kettle last night, having a beer by myself while I waited for a friend to meet me for dinner across the street. I was ignoring my magazine in favor of my smartphone when I loaded up Twitter to see what the world was up to. The magazine is finite; the little 4″ computer in my pocket gives me new information faster than I can consume it. And that’s how I found out that Steve Jobs died.
I always wondered what that day would be like. Celebrity deaths have never really torn me up. I’m part of that really weird group of people that doesn’t really pay much attention to pop culture – I just can’t keep up with it. I’ve never been a huge movie person because I was somehow born lacking whatever gene enables you to remember the plot line of anything or remember who was in what movie. (Do not invite me to your trivia night.) When I think about celebrity deaths that have somehow impacted me, frankly, the list can be counted on one hand.
As I grow older, I’m getting more and more irritated with the coverage of such things. The internet gives us this platform that now, thanks largely to Facebook and Twitter and all of their predecessors, encourages us to be quasi-anonymous assholes. When Amy Winehouse, an artist whose music I deeply respected, passed away, it seemed like a race to the retweet. Within five minutes of the news breaking, there were already people vying to make the most offensive joke possible in the hopes that… what? That someone would retweet them, that someone else would see it, that you might end up featured somewhere and gain some new followers? It’s gross. It’s disrespectful. Where did our goddamned manners and good sense go?
So when I saw that Steve Jobs was stepping down as the face of Apple, all I could think about was that he was clearly dying, and what were we going to do when that happened? How long would it take for people to make shitty jokes about iPhones as if they had any license to trivialize a human life? I didn’t spend much time thinking about it; it seemed just awful. And I don’t much care to sit around thinking about people dying, anyway.
You know what I saw on Twitter yesterday? An unbelievable outpouring of sadness; a shocking amount of honesty and humility. Designers like me, designers much better and smarter than me, immediately being able to say that their work would not be possible without one man’s vision and contribution to our industry. With a little bit of “fuck cancer” sprinkled in for good measure.
Steve Jobs and I don’t know one another. I’ve never worked for Apple, and despite living in San Francisco, I don’t even have some story about a startup I worked at that was created by people who were once top-level developers or something. I have exactly zero personal connection to the man. But there is no one who has impacted my career more than he did.
I’m a designer. That means something new every day. I sit down at my Mac Pro tower with its Cinema Display and I use my Apple software on it. None of those things would have been possible without one visionary with a penchant for black turtlenecks. But it isn’t just that. Steve Jobs truly, deeply revolutionized our industry. I was in design school from 2003-2008; I’m very young. The concept of creating something iconic is so far beyond me. My version of design lies predominantly in 3D animation, particularly products and hard-line objects. Every single time a client has a project for me that involves a screen, we talk about Apple products. It’s either “Can we show this on an iPhone” or “We need to put the screens in a laptop, but something generic, not, like, a MacBook. Like a generic MacBook.” No one has ever mentioned a Blackberry or a Dell or told me something looked “too HP”. One man, the man pictured up there sitting with all of the stuff he needed to be creative, made this brand, this company, this vision that has trickled down over thirty years to permeate almost every client conversation I ever have. Christ.
You want to leave a legacy? Start leaving one. I won’t give you a Steve Jobs quote here; you can refer to Facebook or Twitter or something for that. They’re all spectacular and I wouldn’t know which one to choose anyway. But they’re all the same idea: No one ever got to be successful by sitting around and doing what they’re supposed to. No one has ever been memorable for their work as a follower. There are edge cases, but if you want something to happen to you, you had better make it happen, son. People who sit around and wait will be doing it forever.
Watch every single one of those videos that you see floating around today. Listen to the commencement speech. Listen to his version of the voiceover. Listen, listen, listen. Take a second to reflect and then get back to work. He started us on a really great path but it’s ours, now, and we’ve still got an awful lot to do. Rest in Peace, Mr. Jobs, we will never be able to thank you enough for the inspiration.