You, sir, are no Steve Jobs

Jobs' biography

With the recent passing of technology icon Steve Jobs, the Internet is abuzz with respectful articles about his vision, his methods, and his accomplishments.   Indeed, the effect his career had on the consumer electronics and entertainment industries is mind-boggling.   Google’s Eric Schmidt, for example, referred to him as a Michelangelo of our time.

Steve Jobs has been inspiring marketers, designers, product managers, and entrepreneurs for years.   With the release of his authorized biography, there is a renewed interest in learning from Jobs’ genius.   But, the more we learn about the private and public life of Steve Jobs, the more we realize how difficult it is to imitate his successes.

Prioritize design and the user experience

Believe it or not, saying “hey, the user experience should be top priority” in a strategy meeting used to be somewhat of a rarity.    I remember being in such a meeting in 2001.   The product team was brainstorming ways to increase adoption of a technology service.  My co-worker raised her hand and suggested that the main problem was not necessarily slow Internet connections or lack of the next “killer app.”  The main problem was that the hardware / software were challenging to navigate.    The room fell silent as we stewed on the reality of technology at the time; for the non-technical user, computers were a pain in the ass to use.

Michelangelo

But, user experience is tough to design well, even if you can hold the market leader’s brilliant design right in your hand and experience it yourself.

Transcend the data

Steve Jobs famously said that no consumers were consulted in the design process of the iPad.  “It’s not the customers job to know what they want.” 

Does this mean that focus groups and market research are dead?   Not at all.  Certainly, there are savant designers that can lock themselves in a room and design a fantastic products based on their intuition and instincts.  But, most of us can’t design like Steve Jobs.  We need to build prototypes and test them with customers and see and hear the customer’s emotional response to our designs.      Launch, iterate, and learn.

Make it Apple-like

Hire the average software designer to design a desktop app and most likely the design will come back looking a lot like iTunes.  An ecommerce site?  Looks remarkably similar to Apple.com.  iPhone app?  Hm, just like native IOS apps.

Apple design

Yes, there are lessons to Apple’s design.  Nice fonts, rounded corners, minimalistic layout, removal of superfluous features, soft colors, etc.   The challenge is to create an intuitive interaction that uniquely represents your brand.   It’s not easy.

Edit and prioritize

Product Management is about evaluating trade-offs.  It’s really difficult to correctly prioritize features.  The iPhone famously launched without basic cut-and-paste functionality, for example.  Amazed, competitors doubted that Apple could compete without this critical functionality.  But, Apple customers have traditionally forgiven lack of functionality in favor of a great user experience.    So how do you prioritize features like Steve Jobs?  It’s not easy.

We are all students at the Steve Jobs’ school of marketing and product design.   As a result, Steve Jobs’ legacy has spawned a slew of imitators.  The irony, of course, is that Steve Job’s greatest quality may have been his originality.

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