“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” - Steven Paul Jobs
Steve Jobs’ announcement, that he was stepping down as Apple’s CEO, hit like a bag of bricks. Like most designers, my wife and I are members of The Cult of Mac, with an archive of elegant product design re-boxed and stored for posterity’s sake. There’s the pristine PowerMac Cube, Jonathan Ive’s opus of transparent minimalism (which holds a place of honor at The Museum of Modern Art). There’s the 20th Anniversary Mac, with its futuristic casework and Bose speakers. There are historic versions of software and books, all of which evoke nostalgia. But it wasn’t until Jobs’ unwelcomed news spread like wildfire across the internet, that I really took pause to consider the impact that his vision and relentless imagination have had upon my career.
The Art Center of today bears faint resemblance to the school I attended some twenty five years ago, its subterranean rooms now lined with dramatically down-lit computers, like a frame from the Blade Runner storyboard. Here, tomorrow’s illustrators and designers straddle multiple programs to create highly layered visuals, product and entertainment majors step into the realm of 3-D, and photographers offer up a better level of finish than reality has to offer. Except for a few amber screened, early model PCs that chugged out daisy wheel class schedules in the administrative office, the school I attended was analog. There were a handful of PCs for academic classes, and some rudimentary 3-D plotting was taught by a professor from Cal Tech.
Then it happened. Art Center cleaned out a supply closet, set up a folding table, and installed a solitary Macintosh. The humble machine, a gift from Apple, was made available to anyone interested in taking it for a test drive. Word got around. Nevertheless, it was hard to discern how this new and accessible medium bore any relevance to a world, where traditional drawing and painting were king. Sure, we were all in awe of Apple’s 1984 commercial. How could you not be? Just two years after the release of Blade Runner, Chiat Day tapped Ridley Scott to make a 60 second spot with a then unheard of budget of nearly a million dollars. The concept was timely and the styling seductive. I was also aware of the early adopter, digital pioneers like April Greiman and Barbara Nessim, and while I appreciated their work, the success of it seemed highly dependant on their ability to embrace the distinct limitations of the medium at that time.
In 1985, as I graduated from art school, Steve Jobs was ousted by CEO, John Scully and the Apple board of directors. Nine years after co-founding the personal computing phenomenon, the San Francisco born 30 year old began anew. That same year he launched NeXT, and although the new computer company failed to drive the hardware sales Jobs had anticipated, their software development contributed greatly to OSX, the web, and later generation Mac user interface.
The following year, Jobs purchased Pixar from George Lucas, and John Lasseter and his team released the studio’s first 3-D short: Luxo Jr. That same year, I took a position at the first all-Mac agency in Los Angeles. Apple had gained significant momentum within the design world, and developers such as Aldus and MacroMind were creating powerful software for this platform. This was starting to look like the future, and I wanted an education. My first machine was a Macintosh 512K, with 2 megs of RAM, and a whopping 40MB hard drive—very respectable at the time. There was contagious enthusiasm around the newness of designing this way, and much of what we were creating was sizeable and ambitious. The real challenge was in handling file size, as Apple’s diskettes held a mere 800k. Terry Oyama’s product design incorporated a handle in the top of the case, which made for easy removal from the packing box. For us, that handle became essential, as we would make a late night dash to the printer, the Apple itself becoming a giant floppy. We had the honor of working for numerous Fortune 500 Companies, including Apple itself.
In 1992, my wife and I launched The Fibonacci Design Group, a studio focused on concept and image driven creative for Entertainment and Silicon Valley companies. Work was fast becoming photo driven, and while Adobe Illustrator celebrated its fifth birthday, Photoshop was a mere two years old. There were no layers, and there was no history palette, meaning that you were committed to every move you made. Undoing a bad move could cost a day’s work. The IIcis we were running, took about 45 minutes to save out a double page ad, with another half hour or so to download onto Syquest. If we timed things right, we could squeeze in dinner as an image saved, finishing up just as a courier appeared at the door.
Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. He remarked that Apple had lost its way, because it focused on commerce rather than imagination. “The cure for Apple is not cost cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.” His software developments at NeXT were instrumental in his return to the Cupertino campus, where he now took the reigns as CEO, setting a new and ambitious course for the company. In November of the same year, the on-line Apple Store went live.
Since then, we’ve gone through a number of machines, enjoyed mind-bending advances in the software we use. The Mac has enabled vast creativity in making and recording music, editing film, 3-D modeling, communicating across the globe—you name it, there’s an app for that. The types of innovation that once took years to transpire, seem to happen constantly. It’s hard to believe that the brick and mortar Apple Store is a mere 10 years old, and that in it’s wake we have already seen the development of the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and we are moving into the cloud. “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I can’t imagine what lies ahead, except that it will be elegant, relevant, and game changing.
The inextricable connection for me is that I’ve grown up with Apple, literally and figuratively. Many brands represent little more than commerce. On rare occasion, however, we experience one that truly resonates with us, both emotionally and culturally. Steve Jobs and Apple have innovated with enough future thought, that we have stretched ourselves creatively, and reimagined the world around us.
So, what wine would I pair with nostalgic recollections of Apple? Veuve Cliquot NV Brut, with its notes of lemony, smokey, Pippin apple and yeast, its creamy texture and freshness. It’s readily available (which should appeal to the egalitarian Mr. Jobs), and it’s an appropriate way to send up a toast. We have participated in an amazing new world, as seen through the eyes of Steve Jobs, and at his invitation, ourselves. For that, I am truly grateful. Cheers.
Filed under: Champagne, Influences, The Fibonacci Design Group, LLC, Uncategorized, wine Tagged: | 1984, 20th Anniversary Mac, 512K, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Aldus, Apple, Apple Store, Art Center College of Design, Blade Runner, Cal Tech, Champagne, Chiat Day, Cloud, Cult of Mac, George Lucas, iPad, iPhone, iPod, John Lasseter, John Scully, Jonathan Ive, Luxo Jr., Mac, Macintosh, MacroMind, NeXT, Pixar, PowerMac Cube, Ridley Scott, Steve Jobs, Terry Oyama, The Fibonacci Design Group, Veuve Cliquot