Falling in love with the back of the product

Few people in the modern industrialised world haven’t got something to thank Steve Jobs for. Some of his legacy is obvious, some of it goes much further than the products themselves and is less obvious. It’s about cultural narratives of empowerment that we’re only beginning to fully appreciate in reflection.

Absence is often, sadly, a way to view true value.

My first encounter with Steve Jobs came in 1984 as a 23 year old account manager when I was given the job of producing the first advertising that Apple ever did in the UK.

The budgets Apple had in Europe were not able to extend to anything as glamorous as the famous Ridley Scott ads shaking things up the States at the time. Apple was a fledgling company here, we were a new market and things were low key. We got to do some classy and arresting black and white advertising in the quality press, talking about ‘thinking different’ the kind of thing that was perfect for unconventional architects, creative agencies and the progressive demographic we were pitching to at the time.

What was really great about doing this work for me was I got an Apple MkII, costing a whopping £5,000 installed in my office. The price tag alone made it feel a bit special. It was when I got to use that mouse and wiggle a MacPaint digital spray can around on the screen that things really changed, and synapses fired for me. This was a wow moment, a creative wonder that went way beyond the thing just working, and I was sold.

I think I can honestly say I can put my entire relationship with geekery down to that moment, in the same way a stroll down the Kings Road in my early years growing up in the sixties and seventies made me fall in love with creative design. Visceral moments like those go deep down and stay with you.

Many stories about Steve’s Jobs vision, daring, focus insight and social impact have been told now that he is stepping down as CEO. His reputation, and how it’s made Apple the world’s largest company this week, has become legendary.

Despite the way everything great about Apple’s ostensibly been about product design, the success of Apple also been about the quality of its people. Brand cultures like Apple’s are personality-led. Their values and ways of doing things, built from and inspired by its operating ethos, have set it apart.

What’s stood out in the tributes for me this week is Robert Scoble’s take on all this. Something very important, beyond the shiny sleek surface design Apple’s renowned for, is what Robert Scoble’s said about what was special about Steve Jobs. ‘Steve’s the only one guy in the industry [that] has ever told me to look at the back of a product to understand its beauty’, he said.

It’s worth considering that when Apple came into being as a company, user-friendly was a term that didn’t exist. No-one had ever thought of doing business by user needs first that way.

Now, user-friendliness has become key to the contemporary user experience. As organisations become more social, we can all learn a great deal from that little piece of Steve’s wisdom.

Focusing on the look and feel of a product, and the way Apple approached the design of theirs was ground-breaking. It still is. Product design might be crucial, but understanding user needs, service design and the meaning attached to it also matter.

Today, the ‘back of the product’, of any product, is its people, inside and outside the business. What makes Apple distinctive as a business is its legions of fans, people happy to be defined in no small measure by their association with Apple’s products and what it’s led to for them.

Social organisations are all about this dimension in marketing. Falling in love with the back of the product and understanding the social connections product affinity creates is about making connections that go way beyond being technical.

We can take people out of the boxes they live in within organisations. We can relish the inventiveness and creativity that good user experience design can promote, inherently. We can produce things of wonder as connected networks, like Steve Jobs did.

Business didn’t used to be personal. Now it is. 

Steve Jobs’ focus can live on in a new way.

Cover picture by Judit.

  • I think your glasses may be a bit rose tinted and

  • In my mind the whole thing’s a metaphor Martin, and I agree with your point about implementation entirely.

  • Great post Anne

    I think at heart it’s as simple as it is fundamental. His continuing genius is to be driven by what he sees. We can try and formalise this as “reflective practice”, but the truth (for me) is that he has the courage to articulate his views of what is vital through his love of technology. No market research, no focus groups, just expression. No “models”, no “benchmarks”. Artistry.

  • Back of the product is people? I thought Soylent Green was people? And back of the product was unmatched attention to detail.