Steve Jobs on what users want

In the Preface to  Inventing the Medium,  I write about the limitations of asking users what they want since  people “often cannot think past the familiar conventions of existing devices and applications.” A similar theme emerged from the many admiring reminiscences that followed Steve Jobs’  death this month. From the  New York Times obituary : When asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

People often saw Jobs’ ability to understand consumers as “intuitive” a word I dislike because it is so vaguely used, and because it encourages a kind of magical personality-worshipping attitude toward good design.  Steve Jobs certainly had brilliant insights about design and a charismatic personality, but at his best he also had a way of thinking and working that ordinary mortals could also emulate:

  • Steve Jobs  focused first on core human needs, on the kinds of things that people wanted to do, like carry music around with them in way that made it easy to access individual songs and to add to the collection
  • Steve Jobs was able to separate out the functions he wanted to serve from the ways in which they were currently embodied in social rituals like user behaviors or established industry practices, devices, or media conventions.
  • Steve Jobs paid close attention to the details of design, which allowed him to establish new  conventions that standardized complex actions like selecting music from a large collection  or zooming in and out of a webpage.

Not everyone can be Steve Jobs, but every designer can learn to emulate this radical, creative stance as the starting point of any design project, which is one of the important objectives of my book.

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