As countless, near-identical Steve Jobs obituaries spew out of the blogosphere/Twitterverse today, let's honour his contribution by doing what he did best: anticipating at what will be next...
As Robert Fabricant eloquently wrote in a recent Fast Company article, Apple achieved the pinnacle of design as represented by past forms. Their use of analog metaphors and comfortable affordances at the highest possible level of design craft allowed us to explode into the digital age. This is, in some real way, Steve Jobs' legacy.
The industrial age is wheezing toward a diseased conclusion. Already, the preponderance of industrial jobs have moved from the west into developing countries. More than that, if the majority of world scientists are to be believed, the residue of the industrial age is threatens our oceans, our ecosystem, our species, and perhaps even our world. The end of that paradigm appears to be coming from both directions: the evolutionary progress beyond creating, hoarding and discarding physical crap, coupled with the devolutionary process of our having created a technological and physical infrastructure that destroys our natural world.
The advances of Apple under Steve Jobs serve as perhaps the ultimate icon of transition: the pinnacle of creation in our dying paradigm, and a shape of things to come in the future we have yet to experience. However, as Fabricant pointed out, as magical as iPads and iPods and even Apple IIe's of 25 years ago might have seemed, their greatest successes came dressed in the metaphors of past technologies and affordances, things that are part of a world within which their influence and even presence is rapidly diminishing.
Where the visionary and innovative spirit of Steve Jobs can now take those of us who have the foresight, ability and courage enough to pioneer them is toward new forms for and definitions of design and beauty. No one will yoke the modern and futuristic digital life so successfully to the analog past as Steve Jobs' Apple. At some granular level, you could even say that is his design legacy. But we can now break out from that warm comfort. We can discover and create new, fresh, unexpected ways to bridge the gap between the world we're going to create and the people who will experience it.
Ever since reading Fabricant's essay and realizing the true lack of creativity and originality in our culture in general and Apple's design strategy in particular, I've resolved myself to pursue such an agenda. Perhaps with the even larger event of Jobs' death we can contextualize this moment in time and together aspire to so much more than even Jobs himself was ultimately doing, in the process carrying the spirit which led him to such audacious heights still forward.