Page 40 of Steve Jobs

Speaking at the same time as Jobs that Wednesday afternoon, but in a smaller seminar room, was Maya Lin, twenty-three, who had been catapulted into fame the previous November when her Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. They struck up a close friendship, and Jobs invited her to visit Apple. “I came to work with Steve for a week,” Lin recalled. “I asked him, ‘Why do computers look like clunky TV sets? Why don’t you make something thin? Why not a flat laptop?’” Jobs replied that this was indeed his goal, as soon as the technology was ready.

At that time there was not much exciting happening in the realm of industrial design, Jobs felt. He had a Richard Sapper lamp, which he admired, and he also liked the furniture of Charles and Ray Eames and the Braun products of Dieter Rams. But there were no towering figures energizing the world of industrial design the way that Raymond Loewy and Herbert Bayer had done. “There really wasn’t much going on in industrial design, particularly in Silicon Valley, and Steve was very eager to change that,” said Lin. “His design sensibility is sleek but not slick, and it’s playful. He embraced minimalism, which came from his Zen devotion to simplicity, but he avoided allowing that to make his products cold. They stayed fun. He’s passionate and super-serious about design, but at the same time there’s a sense of play.”

As Jobs’s design sensibilities evolved, he became particularly attracted to the Japanese style and began hanging out with its stars, such as Issey Miyake and I. M. Pei. His Buddhist training was a big influence. “I have always found Buddhism, Japanese Zen Buddhism in particular, to be aesthetically sublime,” he said. “The most sublime thing I’ve ever seen are the gardens around Kyoto. I’m deeply moved by what that culture has produced, and it’s directly from Zen Buddhism.”

Like a Porsche

Jef Raskin’s vision for the Macintosh was that it would be like a boxy carry-on suitcase, which would be closed by flipping up the keyboard over the front screen. When Jobs took over the project, he decided to sacrifice portability for a distinctive design that wouldn’t take up much space on a desk. He plopped down a phone book and declared, to the horror of the engineers, that it shouldn’t have a footprint larger than that. So his design team of Jerry Manock and Terry Oyama began working on ideas that had the screen above the computer box, with a keyboard that was detachable.

One day in March 1981, Andy Hertzfeld came back to the office from dinner to find Jobs hovering over their one Mac prototype in intense discussion with the creative services director, James Ferris. “We need it to have a classic look that won’t go out of style, like the Volkswagen Beetle,” Jobs said. From his father he had developed an appreciation for the contours of classic cars.

“No, that’s not right,” Ferris replied. “The lines should be voluptuous, like a Ferrari.”

“Not a Ferrari, that’s not right either,” Jobs countered. “It should be more like a Porsche!” Jobs owned a Porsche 928 at the time. When Bill Atkinson was over one weekend, Jobs brought him outside to admire the car. “Great art stretches the taste, it doesn’t follow tastes,” he told Atkinson. He also admired the design of the Mercedes. “Over the years, they’ve made the lines softer but the details starker,” he said one day as he walked around the parking lot. “That’s what we have to do with the Macintosh.”

Oyama drafted a preliminary design and had a plaster model made. The Mac team gathered around for the unveiling and expressed their thoughts. Hertzfeld called it “cute.” Others also seemed satisfied. Then Jobs let loose a blistering burst of criticism. “It’s way too boxy, it’s got to be more curvaceous. The radius of the first chamfer needs to be bigger, and I don’t like the size of the bevel.” With his new fluency in industrial design lingo, Jobs was referring to the angular or curved edge connecting the sides of the computer. But then he gave a resounding compliment. “It’s a start,” he said.

Every month or so, Manock and Oyama would present a new iteration based on Jobs’s previous criticisms. The latest plaster model would be dramatically unveiled, and all the previous attempts would be lined up next to it. That not only helped them gauge the design’s evolution, but it prevented Jobs from insisting that one of his suggestions had been ignored. “By the fourth model, I could barely distinguish it from the third one,” said Hertzfeld, “but Steve was always critical and decisive, saying he loved or hated a detail that I could barely perceive.”

One weekend Jobs went to Macy’s in Palo Alto and again spent time studying appliances, especially the Cuisinart. He came bounding into the Mac office that Monday, asked the design team to go buy one, and made a raft of new suggestions based on its lines, curves, and bevels.

Jobs kept insisting that the machine should look friendly. As a result, it evolved to resemble a human face. With the disk drive built in below the screen, the unit was taller and narrower than most computers, suggesting a head. The recess near the base evoked a gentle chin, and Jobs narrowed the strip of plastic at the top so that it avoided the Neanderthal forehead that made the Lisa subtly unattractive. The patent for the design of the Apple case was issued in the name of Steve Jobs as well as Manock and Oyama. “Even though Steve didn’t draw any of the lines, his ideas and inspiration made the design what it is,” Oyama later said. “To be honest, we didn’t know what it meant for a computer to be ‘friendly’ until Steve told us.”

Jobs obsessed with equal intensity about the look of what would appear on the screen. One day Bill Atkinson burst into Texaco Towers all excited. He had just come up with a brilliant algorithm that could draw circles and ovals onscreen quickly. The math for making circles usually required calculating square roots, which the 68000 microprocessor didn’t support. But Atkinson did a workaround based on the fact that the sum of a sequence of odd numbers produces a sequence of perfect squares (for example, 1 + 3 = 4, 1 + 3 + 5 = 9, etc.). Hertzfeld recalled that when Atkinson fired up his demo, everyone was impressed except Jobs. “Well, circles and ovals are good,” he said, “but how about drawing rectangles with rounded corners?”

“I don’t think we really need it,” said Atkinson, who explained that it would be almost impossible to do. “I wanted to keep the graphics routines lean and limit them to the primitives that truly needed to be done,” he recalled.