Superior design means getting little details right — even the parts that no one can see. In his landmark biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson tells the story of Jobs’s obsession to detail in the design of the breakthrough Apple II personal computer, down to the engineering of the power supply inside the computer. Jobs wanted the Apple II to provide power without needing to use a fan inside the unit because he believed fans were distracting. So he hired an engineer named Rod Holt, who created a new power system that was more efficient and superior to a fan-based supply. Isaacson writes:
Jobs’s father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design because the lines were not straight enough.
One of my favorite examples of designing the unseen details comes from Outpost Trading Company, which created this Beatles T shirt that depicts A Hard Day’s Night:
The design really gets interesting on the inside, which no one but the owner can see. Beneath the Outpost Trading Company label is an awesome silhouette of the iconic Abbey Road album cover:
The discerning eye might note that the Beatles look like they are walking the wrong way, going from the right side to the left, instead of the left-right sequence depicted on the album cover. But when you wear the T-shirt, the Beatles are walking left to right as they did on the cover — unseen to anyone, like a private joke shared with the shirt wearer.
The unseen details make the difference between an ordinary product and a special experience that rewards the buyer with a more personalized feel. Unseen details also create curiosity: I definitely want to learn more about Outpost Trading Company in addition to admiring the T shirt. Unseen details also send a message to customers: our brand trusts you. We trust you to take the time to notice something subtle about our product, and we trust that you’ll appreciate the effort we have taken to go the extra mile and do something other brands might not do.
These little details are often associated with premium products and services such as gourmet dining. But any kind of brand can embed unseen details in its products and services to achieve surprise and delight, as fast-food chain In-n-Out Burger has done with its “Secret Menu.” The Secret Menu originally consisted of custom-made food orders off the menu, available only if you knew to ask for them. The Secret Menu eventually became not very secret, but the concept still helps In-n-Out Burger position itself as a hip, even cult brand.
If Steve Jobs were alive today, he would be the first to tell you he was not the only person responsible for making Apple succeed. But let’s face it: Steve Jobs defined the Apple brand, a reality that has been underscored lately by grumbling among the pundits that Apple is in danger of losing its swagger and cool (examples hereand here). Maybe Jobs defined Apple too well. But the reason we can’t stop talking about him today is that he transcended the Apple brand and did more than sell products. He was a market maker. I recently introduced the term market makerto describe business people who act like artists and change the world with their personal visions. Successful marketers sell things; but market makers inspire people to act, to believe, and to live their lives differently. Jobs is one of four market makers, including Ahmet Ertegun, Anita Roddick, and Guy Kawasaki, whom I profile in my recently published white paper, How to Be a Market Maker. Jobs influenced entire industries, ranging from consumer products to music. But is he so extraordinary that everyday people cannot relate to his achievements? I think not. I believe we can adopt a little of Steve Jobs at his best by living our lives with passion no matter what we do.
Steve Jobs is the kind of market maker we might call a creator. Creators are directly involved in the development of products and services for a company. Creators have a vision for how the world should work and are bold enough to impose that vision on those around them through the products and services they develop.
By now Jobs’s life is so well known it plays like the plot of a movie we’ve all seen hundreds of times (and, of course, we’ll soon be able to see a real movie about him): his explosive early years at Apple, when his company introduced a new vision for fusing design, user experience, and computing; the exile from Apple, when he founded the revolutionary Pixar Animation; and his glorious second act as CEO of Apple, when the company completely disrupted industries ranging from music to telecommunications by introducing wave upon wave of innovative mobile devices that changed how we consume content.
Throughout his storied career, Jobs, more than anyone, humanized technology. So great was his impact on popular culture, that upon his death, his image graced the covers of publications ranging from The New Yorker to Rolling Stone. Macs came along when personal computers were widely perceived as the province of a nerdy few. Apple did something that still seems astounding: turned an impersonal computing device into something warm and desirable.(My family still owns our clamshell iMac from the late 1990s — even though we don’t use it anymore, we just love having it around because with its sleek cover and aqua green finish, it looks like a piece of art.)
And of course Apple helped disrupt the entire music industry through iTunes and the iPod — liberating music from the limits of analog and empowering consumers to make music part of their mobile lifestyles. As Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Timeswrote, “With Apple’s iTunes and iPod, [Steve Jobs] revived the single, put music libraries in fans’ pockets and posed a challenge to brick-and-mortar record stores and radio.” Record companies, betting on the long-term success of the compact disc, failed to respond to how Apple was helping to turn consumers from album aficionados to snackers of individual digital downloads. The music industry is still trying to catch up.
Jobs’s legacy at Apple is so astonishing that it’s easy to overlook what he accomplished by founding and developing Pixar. Pixar would eventually do far more than create high-quality blockbuster entertainment. Pixar changed movie making. Pixar movies taught Hollywood how to gracefully fuse technology, humanity, and storytelling. The Pixar team created movies that somehow turned animated objects like toy cowboys into fully realized characters injected with humanity.
In doing so, Pixar made it cool for anyone to enjoy a family film: single gay male urbanites, suburban parents, children, teens too self-consciously hip for Bambi — to name but a few demographics. Pixar has touched. Pixar launched animated movies that children can enjoy again as fully-grown adults — and that adults can enjoy for the first time without children in tow. By contrast, even Disney classics like Snow White and Pinocchio are forever remembered as animated family movies that children appreciate the most.
Steve Jobs best exemplifies a trait common to all market marketers: a burning passion. Steve Jobs “put passion into products,” noted James B. Stewart in one of the many heart-felt tributes to Jobs written in the aftermath of his death in 2011. In his acclaimed biography, Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson describes the moment when unveiled iTunes to jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who turned out to be an indifferent audience:
“Watch what it can do!” Jobs kept insisting when Marsalis’s attention would wander. “See how the interface works.” Marsalis later recalled, “I don’t care much about computers, and kept telling him so, but he goes on for two hours. He was a man possessed. After a while, I started looking at him and not the computer, because I was so fascinated with his passion.”
Isaacson also recounts the time Jobs decided to make a major overhaul to the design of the iPhone as the project neared completion, telling designer Jonathan Ive that “‘I didn’t sleep last night because I realized that I just don’t love it’ . . . Ive, to his dismay, instantly realized Jobs was right.”
In fact, Jobs expressed his passion for design in every aspect of his life. He personally supervised the construction of an old-fashioned brick factory-style building for Pixar, and according to Brent Schlender, if the colors of the custom-made bricks were not distributed evenly enough, Jobs made the bricklayers tear apart the bricks and start over. (But those exacting standards also had a down side. When people failed to live up to what he wanted, he could be brutal and insufferable, as you can read in Ben Austin’s Wired August 2012 cover piece, “Do You Really Want to Be Like Steve Jobs?”)
All the market makers profiled in this white paper demonstrate passion.
Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, was passionate about human rights, and, in particular, women’s rights. The entire premise behind the Body Shop was selling cosmetics without sexism and eschewing the cult of youth. Guy Kawasaki is passionate about injecting enchanting values and practices in the work place — and if you’ve ever worked with him, you know he has an equally strong zeal for clear, simple communication. Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records, was so passionate about music that he sometimes lived in the studio with the artists on his label.
It doesn’t matter whether you work for a pet food store or write for a living: you can be a market maker by acting with passion.