Steve Jobs rejected the first-ever motherboard his team submitted for the original Apple II computer because its lines weren’t straight enough. Lest you were fooled - his worth was not quite up to 10.2 billion at the time. It was about 0.00004% of that ($4,000 for the less mathematically inclined).
The Apple II Computer
So what’s the deal? Why the need? Of all pieces in the computer, the motherboard needs merely and primarily to be functional. It has one job; it needs to work.
But the motherboard is also the soul of the computer. If the computer is the body, then the motherboard is the soul that beats life through its veins.
This is to say that functionality and design work hand in hand, like body with soul. They are mutually codependent and are at risk of failing without the other.
Journeys of My Design
As a Director of Design at Tribe Creative, I often reflect on the 'motherboard,' the soul of my creative work.
The thought, the language, the nuances, and the conversations that take place before I even put pencil to paper - those, collectively, are the motherboard. And without them my design may be pretty, but its lines won’t be straight. And what would happen if those haphazard attempts of design, without straight lines to support them, would go into the cosmos, rippling and rippling their bumpy curves until they are not lines at all?
The design would have a body, but not a soul.
The purpose of design is to tell exactly its product’s story - nothing more, nothing less. In the three seconds it has to communicate with its audience, a design must both appeal to the viewer on a functional and aesthetic level. A perfect balance must be struck. The goal is to find the gem within the mess, put it on a paper, and stop there. Don’t overreach and overthink. Subtract, don’t add.
A poor design is kind of like the missing comma in the image below - you may have been so close, but not close enough. And like a missing comma, a poor design choice does not simply dilute your message - it changes your message completely.
Is Seeing Really Believing?
I once thought that the goal of design was to reinforce the saying, “seeing is believing.” Meaning, the purpose of design is to nudge the viewer towards a certain belief, using the tool of seeing to do so. We make them see and therefore they believe.
I now understand that the psychology of design goes way, way deeper. One does not see first and believe second. In fact, as a designer, my perspective must be the opposite: validate beliefs first, design accordingly second.
This means that my job is not to choose what I want the viewer to believe, but rather to discover what he already believes. Think not about what you offer your customer, but about what your customer already desires. Find that and give it to him (and not in so many words).
Therein lies the emotional connection of design.
The purpose of a logo or a brand or an ad is to present a design (arguably the quickest method of communication to your consumer) which connects on an emotional level to a belief of your consumer. The functionality of design comes in when your brand/product/company is best equipped to deliver and fulfill the real-life void within that emotional belief.
Back to Steve Jobs
The interesting character that was Steve Jobs was precisely the right combination of functionality and design. He lived in a time of raging LSD festivals and Woodstock and communal living and “freedom.” And in fact, he was a hippie - but of a certain kind. He was structured and rigid and functional within his freedom. He did not let the whirlwind of the era get the better of him; he took the colors of design without getting lost in the rainbow.
In other words, he used function to reinforce design.
And in the same breath he said “Motherboard - don’t get fooled by your function, your lines must be straight!” This thing must be pretty. It must feel good to look at. More so, there needs to be a positive emotional response - a calming, appeasing one - elicited from the user within every step of every product. Functionality is simply not enough.
Jobs had an entire team devoted to packaging who studied the experience of opening a box to learn how to achieve the excitement and emotional response that is now so common with Apple products.
In other words, he used design to reinforce function.
Let's Wrap This Up
I didn’t mean for this blog to be all about Steve Jobs. It simply happened that way; inspiration comes from funny places. I tried and tried to concoct cohesive, compelling concepts but at the end, I simply had to scrape away the mess, find the gem (Or not! You tell me.), put it on paper, and stop there.
And such is the process of design. Find the inspiration that comes at you, and let that be the soul of your work. From there, create the body; create the function that will support your inspiration. Don't fight either, but find the balance between the two.
As Director of Design at Wisdom Tribe, Emunah builds on years of experience developing successful brands in markets as diverse as high fashion and health food. She lives in the heart of the holy city with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys good bike rides through the countryside. Go check out more of her work here!