Thursday, October 6, 2011

Creating Beauty

I've been thinking a lot over the last 24 hours about the lessons I've learned from Steve Jobs. While I didn't know him personally, my life was touched by him in the same way he touched the lives of millions of people worldwide. I didn't know Steve, but I learned valuable lessons from him and how he ran Apple. One of those lessons, and perhaps one of the most important in regards to my work, is the beauty of technology.

From the very beginning, creating technology was not enough for Steve Jobs. He didn't want average, ordinary, run of the mill hardware and software. He wanted art. He believed in the experience of technology as strongly as he believed in the functionality of it. In Jobs' world, each product released by Apple was a new painting, filled with nuances, subtleties, and things that were often there for no other reason than to delight the user. Steve was a businessman, sure, but he was also an artist who used the bits and bytes, the wires and circuit boards of his products as the canvas on which he painted his most glorious masterpieces.

As technologists, we often forget that technology can and should be 'sexy'.  Whether we operate a full-fledged company or are just some guy or girl writing code in their basement, each product we release has the potential to be our own personal Mona Lisa.

Too many times, we focus intensely on getting functionality right but completely miss the experience. 'Beautiful' is not a term you often hear in the technology space. "Innovative', 'cutting edge', ' forward thinking' are the main selling points of most new products and there's a good reason for that: the technology industry has lost the lust for beauty it once had and, to a large degree, Steve Jobs fought a 30 year battle to get that lust back.

People often complain that Apple's products are overpriced for what you get. Those people are only looking at the functionality. Apple users don't pay a premium because it's the best, most functional technology. They pay a premium because of the experience that comes with owning an Apple product. The success of Apple shows that experience matters to consumers and they're willing to pay more to be part of something special.

To a large degree, I've been like most people in the industry: I've focused on functionality and said 'who cares if it's sexy'?  But looking back on the lessons that Steve Jobs taught us, I have to admit that a lot of people care. I want to make sexy software. I want to use my brush to create beautiful, vibrant, multi-layered works of art. Anyone can create software, but an artist creates beauty.

How do you create beauty in your work?