The official Apple website posted a black and white photo of former CEO Steve Jobs with the text “1955-2011” on the night of Oct. 5, and within minutes the Internet was ablaze with reflections on Job’s untimely death due to pancreatic cancer.
“Wired” quickly followed, with a memorial splash page, a completely black background accompanied by quotes from influential public figures. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thanked Jobs for “showing that what you build can change the world.”
Just when it seemed like the entire Internet might have collectively gone somber, the satirical newspaper The Onion spoke up with the headline, “Last American Who Knew What The F*** He Was Doing Dies.”
Even if the article caught some readers as distasteful, or maybe “too soon,” like all good satire, there is some truth behind the sentiment. Jobs may not have changed the technological landscape of the 21st century by himself, and Apple still might only control 12 percent of the personal computer market, but seeing a product that doesn’t entirely exist yet — and actually executing it — is hard. It’s really hard. Jobs might not be the last creative giant in the world, but there’s a reason why there was such a strong outpouring on Twitter and Facebook.
Especially at SCAD, a community of creative people, it’s easy to understand why our peers were posting their own reflections on how Jobs’ legacy affected their career choices. From design to animation, the world is definitely different than it was even 10 years ago. It’s easy to get the inspiration, the idea, but it’s the rare person that sees their ideas through before giving up to failed projects, time and life in general.
Jobs had plenty of successes and failures. He, along with the team at Macintosh creating the first personal computer, redefined the phone and music industries, and made design a principle attribute of the company philosophy. But he also got fired from Apple (he returned years later), made a second system, the NeXT that completely flopped, and let’s face it —Apple was still struggling in the ’90s until they branched into handheld technology.
Maybe what’s hard to see now that Apple dominates the handheld market is that during his time at Apple, Jobs did more than create a successful product, he put an emphasis on design ease and accessibility. Apple used stainless steel instead of plastic in their computers, glass on the iPhone screens and made user experience part of the design equation. In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, he recalls the use of a single calligraphy class in college. “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”
It’d be easy to list his achievements, the endless ways the last 30 years has completely reshaped culture, but as artists and designers, there’s more to learn from Jobs’ professional life than the recalling of any product that happens to start with a lowercase “i.”
There’s a certain arrogance allowed to artists, when an idea inspires you to create something just a little bit better. Just as Apple has done with personal computers, MP3 players and cellphones.
There’s the excitement of learning something new, without prioritizing practicality. Just as Jobs did when he acquired a tiny, but struggling start-up later to be called Pixar in 1995.
And there’s the willingness to take risks in your artwork, to constantly reinvent yourself. The application of this mindset need not be spending 10 billion dollars to acquire an animation studio. It can be as simple as taking a class outside of your major even if the thought of a critique in a field that’s not your strength completely freaks you out. You never know when a single experience will inspire you later.
Jobs called Stanford graduates six years ago to approach their adult life with this creative vision and his creative philosophy, not any one product, and that is perhaps the best thing artists can take away from his life.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs, 1955-2011