Steve Jobs: An Unexpected Master of Empathy

Originally posted to

Steve Jobs was the master of empathy.

Steve Jobs is often portrayed as an icon. A game changer. An innovator. At the same time he’s portrayed as mean, cold, and heartless. Someone who wouldn’t stop until he got his way. Earlier this year, the unflinching documentary, “The Man in the Machine” showed Jobs’ difficult side and how he could be mean and heartless in and out of the workplace. What this film fails to show is the true genius of Jobs.

It failed to show his empathetic side in which his visionariness succeeded in creating products that were an extension of the user. The products resonated on a personal level with everyday people. They resonated because Jobs was a master of designing for and with empathy. This was where he proved this movie wrong, and showed people that he did care. So, no doubt, will many more movies, books, and documentaries portray Jobs as a heartless man, but Jobs shouldn’t be defined by these qualities alone. He was also a visionary, an innovator, and an elite designer.

Apple is known for its clean, simple, easy to use products. Since day one, the company has preached a design philosophy of simplicity and focus. Its products come across as elegant yet personal which is why more than half of the homes in the U.S. use an Apple product. Steve Jobs’ design philosophy was based on focus and empathy. He truly wanted to create products that resonated on a personal level with the user. He always designed with the user in mind.

This is how we as web designers, app designers, and product designers should think about design. We should put the user first. UX should always come before UI. “No” should be a frequent word in our vocabularies. One of the more famous stories of Steve Jobs is in 1997 when he recently returned to Apple. His team was thinking of product ideas when suddenly he had enough. He wrote on the whiteboard a two by two grid and wrote “Consumer”, “Pro”, “Desktop”, and “Portable”, one in each square. He said think of one product to put in each quadrant. He said, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” Later on he would start to take his “top 100” employees on retreats in which he would ask each person to think of ideas to put on a list of 10 products Apple would do next. He would personally filter through them until only 10 remained. Then he would cross off the bottom 7 saying, “We can only do 3.”

All of the designs listed on Inspirizone have designed with UX in mind first. When you get the experience down first, good UI follows. They have designed for empathy and with the end user in mind. It is this selfless kind of design that outputs great products.

So to design for and with empathy here’s a quick checklist:

- UX above all else, even UI

- say “no” often, ask yourself “do I really need this feature”

- stay focused

- simplicity is key

- put yourself in your end user’s shoes

- do what’s best for the user not for you

So many awesome products lose sight of what the end user wants. So many designers, myself included, lose track of what the product should really be. We add on features, effects, animations, and images that look cool, but take away from the core experience of the product that really matters. We need to start saying “no” to these. We need to start, as cliché as it is in the design world, start thinking like Steve Jobs. Because although many are starting to show him as a mean and heartless man, he was a visionary. He did change the world. But he didn’t change the world in a conventional way. Unconventional is essential when making change and innovating. He designed for empathy. He designed for the user, and in this way he showed us that he wasn’t a cold, cruel man. He showed us that he did care and that his mission was to put great technology in capable and talented people’s hands, in order to enable them to create and innovate with it.

His products continue to affect our lives in new, revolutionary ways, years after their conception. That is the success that comes with empathetic design, and when designers truly do put the experience over the interface in order to resonate with the user and at the end of the day design with empathy.

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