Jobs' Greatest Legacy May Be Design Impact Steve Jobs, who died Wednesday, did not invent the computer, or the mouse, or the smartphone, or MP3 players. But it was his vision that made them accessible, user-friendly and enormously popular.
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Steve Jobs' Greatest Legacy May Be Impact On Design

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Steve Jobs' Greatest Legacy May Be Impact On Design

Steve Jobs' Greatest Legacy May Be Impact On Design

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Now, Steve Jobs did not invent the computer or the mouse or the smart phone or MP3 players, but his vision made them accessible, user-friendly and enormously popular. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, one of Steve Jobs' greatest legacies is his impact on design.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: It's true, Steve Jobs didn't invent computers, though he was obsessed with them from an early age. In 1975, at the age of 20, Jobs was part of the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of early computer enthusiasts obsessed with making computers more popular.

JOHN GAGE: People all together in a room, jostling, bubbling with ideas, bringing in new technology, new chips, new displays, new networks, new software, everything new.

SYDELL: At least, it was new back then, says John Gage, who was a member of the Homebrew Computer Club. Gage says from the get-go, Jobs' talent was to take all those different pieces of technology and incorporate them into one design.

GAGE: With the result - an elegant, simple, human, usable device. That was Steve's genius. He saw clearly how to take this enormous complexity and make something a human being could use.

SYDELL: The first Apple II computer, which came out in 1977, was designed to be more like a home appliance. Up until then, you had to know how to put them together yourself. But it was the design of the MacIntosh that set the public on fire. In 1984, Steve Jobs introduced the first Mac in front of an audience of thousands.


SYDELL: The computer voice went on to poke fun at IBM computers. Never trust a computer you can't lift, it said. It had a mouse and the graphical user interface - not the first computer to have them, but it was the first time a computer with those features was commercially successful. The Mac made the computer a creative device for the average person. Again, John Gage.

GAGE: He brought music and art. He brought visual sensation. He brought capabilities to the computer that were not dreamed of by those that were at the lower levels of putting together the chips that would do the fast computation or store all the bits of a picture.

SYDELL: In 1985, Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple in a boardroom coup. The company floundered. He returned in 1997. He stripped down the company the way he stripped down design, cutting out product lines. Robert Brenner was at Apple during the time Jobs was gone. When he returned, Brenner says he unleashed the power of the company's designers.

ROBERT BRENNER: There obviously is a culture and an environment there as a designer if you're good that will allow you - to support you in doing great things.

SYDELL: The iMac, released in 1998, looked unlike any other personal computer. Up until then, computers were little ugly plastic boxes. The iMac was cute and curvy. In 2001, the iPod reshaped the idea of an MP3 player. It had a simple user interface with a wheel on the front that you could turn to scroll through all your songs in a little window. Then, in 2007, Apple entered the smart phone market. Jobs poked fun at the other smart phones and then he introduced the iPhone.

STEVE JOBS: What we want to do is make a leap frog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been and super easy to use. This is what iPhone is, okay?

SYDELL: Brenner says Jobs was obsessed with the best materials, not plated plastic, but real machined metal; not black plastic, but glass. Brenner says Apple would build a new factory if that's what it took to make the product just right.

BRENNER: Very few companies would do that, say, here's an object we believe needs to be made this way, let's go out and create an entire infrastructure to do it.

SYDELL: Brenner says Steve Jobs raised the profile of design. Brenner, who now has his own firm, says there's a dark side to that. Everybody wants their products to look just like Apple's.

BRENNER: If it's not a machined piece of aluminum with black glass and one button, it's not good.

SYDELL: Still, Brenner says the world of computers is a better place because of Steve Jobs. The design was friendly and that made computers more than machines, it made them objects that customers could love. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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