Why Design Matters

I don’t know if you own an Apple iPhone or an iPad but you only have to pick them up and touch them to realize that they are designed with a genius that goes beyond the physical. They are intuitive and work with an understanding that blends the human experience with technology.Why Design Matters & Why Getting Under Someone's Skin Is Vital

Steve Jobs is maybe “the” design genius of the information age and has made major impact on several industries with his technology designs and creations including

  • The personal computer industry with Apple in the 1980’s,
  • The movie animation industry with Pixar in 1986 when he bought the company for $5 million from George Lucas (all of its movies are among the top 50 grossing movies of all time and have generated over $6.3 billion in revenue)
  • The music industry with the iPod and the Apple  iTunes store
  • The mobile phone industry with the Apple iPhone and Apps store
  • The publishing industry with the iPad (the fastest selling technology device in history)
  • The newspaper industry? ..this one is a work in progress (read this article of Apple and Rupert Murdoch’s plans for news)

In 1996 Steve Jobs was interviewed by “Wired Magazine” and he said this about design.

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it “looks”. But of course if you dig deeper , its really how it “works”. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. To design something really well, you have to “get it”. You have to really “grok ” what it’s all about. It takes a passionate comittment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it , not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.”

The term “Grok” by the way is a real word and not a “Jobian” expression.

It means according to the Oxford English Dictionary “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with” and “to empathize or communicate sympathetically with).

Wikipaedia says “To grok is to share the same reality or line of thinking with another physical or conceptual entity“.

Author Robert A. Heinlein coined the term in his best-selling 1961 book Stranger in a Strange Land. In Heinlein’s view, grokking is the intermingling of intelligence that necessarily affects both the observer and the observed.

I am immersed and enmeshed in the web industry both personally and professionally and have the pleasure and privilege to work with people and their companies with their online stores, web design and digital marketing projects.

The constant challenge is to get under their skin and understand intuitively and empathically what they are trying to achieve and how they want to communicate to their audience. The websites we design and the solution we build need to go beyond the skin deep look and feel and provide the user with an experience that solves their problems and makes life a little easier. In essence we are trying to change the world in our small way.

The genius in design is to ask enough questions and spend enough time so that we “get it” and blend the technology with the human so we can provide an experience that goes beyond the ordinary and into the realm of of intuition and maybe a little magic.

Do you get under your customers skin?

Image by jaudrius


  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/dmark Mark Hornung

    Jobs’s intuitive genius goes even further, because he anticipates what will delight users before they even realize they want it. GUI for the Mac was pretty much a no-brainer (who wouldn’t prefer icons to command line interface?), but the other successes you mention weren’t all that obvious before Jobs made them realities. Loved your exgesis of ‘grok.’ Makes me want to go and put on some Leon Russell…

  • http://www.red-brand-media.com/blog RED Brand Media

    Yes Jobs is passionate about how design enables things to work more beautifully. He creates products that change the way we live, work, play, and think. But LISTENING to what people want and providing options is also important. Rolling out updated designs every few months on beautiful, but expensive products is not the way to please the masses. Narcissism has infiltrated into the arena of Jobs and his Apple products. Let it be a lesson to those who try to get under their customers skins and end up thinking for them.

    • sobecreation

      I don’t think Jobs/Apple have ever tried to please the masses. They (or their design teams, as Binreminded pointed out above) have proven to understand people in a way that people don’t understand themselves.

      They don’t aim to please people – they aim to give society what society itself doesn’t even know it wants.

  • http://www.eastdevonit.co.uk Daniel H Pavey

    Great article, it was so good I had to read it twice!!

    I think Jobs is right, design is more than just how it looks…

    I also think that getting under a clients skin and truly understanding their needs is a very important facet of the design process…

    I will try harder to grok!


  • http://retailmktg.wordpress.com Javier

    Excelent article!.
    I´ll share it.

  • http://www.experiate.net Paul Flanigan

    Great points, Jeff. One thing I have learned in my own work is to begin with the end in mind. Design is platform upon which things are built. If they don’t work for the lifestyle of the user, they don’t work. Jobs understands that.

    Good design is not just about solving problems, though. It’s about showing benefits – how things can be better.

  • http://twitter.com/binreminded Binreminded

    I get annoyed when people say Steve Jobs is a design genius. He paid Jonathan Ive to design Mac products including the iPhone. His genius is in finding geniuses to design things for is company.

    • Danny Brown

      Thanks for saying this – so many people forget the true design genius.

    • http://www.PerWorks.com Ken Rosen

      I don’t mean this as a correction, only an addition: I worked with Steve, mostly pre-Ive. His fingerprints, guidance, standards, philosophy and yes, design genius, were in everything. I’ve never heard a whisper from insiders that anything changed up to his last breath.

  • Oddgeir

    Great article and and I would rather pay twice as much for an Apple product just because of it’s intelligent designs. No other techproducts even close.

  • Anonymous

    Apple have always innovated long before mr Ives came along. The mac plus had windows icons, pull down menus and a mouse long before the windows brigade.


  • http://www.paperacrobat.blogspot.com/ Paper Acrobat

    Its been rumoured that they test all new products on 6 year olds… That’s why they are so intuitive and easy to use. Kids have no preconceptions or agenda. Clever!