You’ve probably already read a lot of posts like this one today and will no doubt read many more. I haven’t read any yet, as I wanted to collect my thoughts on the sad death of Steve Jobs before reading any others. Like many of us, I was shocked at the news I read when I first woke up this morning — and like many of us again, I read it in a way that would not have been possible five years ago, on a device that Jobs helped to create.
I saw my first Macintosh computer in 1990, at my first proper job. I left school at 18, tired of education, and started in a career that utilised one of my strongest subjects, Maths. I was a trainee accountant. The apprenticeship involved moving around the various departments of a large company, learning more and more about numbers – none of it stuck in my head. The only part of the job I can remember is from when I was in the marketing department. In amongst the regular suits was this one guy, maybe a couple of years older than me. He didn’t wear a suit, or even a tie. He had a beige computer which at first glance seemed like all the others in the office, except for the giant screen, which was in full colour.
His job was to produce all the marketing reports for the directors. He would take all the boring numbers and fact and figures, which meant nothing to me, and turn them into pretty charts and tables. He could even put pictures in the documents and everything. To someone who was used to computers like the BBC Micro or Commodore 64, it was like a kind of magic. It was at this point that I realised I made a bad career choice and subsequently started making plans to go to college the following year and do something more creative with my life.
Once I had found a place to study, I was given a “holiday” project from the college — to make something that told them “all about me,” and I managed to convince my employers to let me use the big Mac after work hours to do it. So I taught myself how to lay out pages in QuarkXpress, endlessly fiddling with fonts and borders, then printed them out using a LaserWriter onto paper that I’d already drawn or painted on or intended to stick stuff to in a very naïve college kind of way.
When I got to college, my mind was blown so many more times by products from (and inspired by) the company co-founded by Steve Jobs (even if he wasn’t actually working there at the time). I created a HyperCard stack on an original Mac classic with its 9 inch black and white screen, amazed by the simplicity of it: just add a button here and clicking it will take you there. A tutor gave us a demo of an early version of PhotoShop (2, I think) and it was just like the scene from Blade Runner where Deckard zooms in and pans around the photo. I made a silly little animation using photos taken with a QuickTake 100, and processed them using Photoshop and Macromedia Director.
Every project I did during my three years at college used a Mac in one way or another. Title cards for my photographs were set in Futura using Quark. Credits for my videos were filmed off of a computer screen. Another animation used hundreds of frames of video, imported into Premiere, converted to black and white and printed out, before being coloured in and re-animated using a rostrum camera. The possibilities seemed endless.
After graduating, I got a job in the marketing department of a software reseller, producing the same kinds of materials that inspired me to change jobs. Then the web came along and I got to design the company’s website – and yes, there were lots of bevels, patterns and drop-shadows, all done by hand though as there weren’t any filters to do it for you back then! After this I was hooked and got a job as a web designer for the BBC. At the time they were mostly PC only, and I remember how uncomfortable I felt using one. I kept finding excuses to use the big Quadra they had around for video work — “but there’s no PC software to make animated gifs” or “this PC doesn’t have the nice font I want.” I lobbied and badgered my bosses for ages to get me a Mac — reasoning that productivity would increase and support costs would decrease. Eventually I won and from then on all the new designers were given Macs by default. It was several years until one actually requested a PC. We made him sit on the other side of the room.
Our design team grew from two of us to nearly 20 at our peak and we were constantly creating award-winning and engaging websites for people of all ages, from toddlers upwards. And I like to think it was partly made possible by Apple and Steve Jobs.
He inspired his designers and engineers to build amazing computers. Those computers inspired programmers to create amazing software. That software enabled people to create a wealth of art, design, product, information, and interactivity. All of these are then used by others to create their own memories and so on.
Apple is still doing that today, and will no doubt do it for a long time to come. This is what I think Steve Jobs’s legacy will be, inspiring and encouraging others to be creative. Thank you for that, Steve.