Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Steve Jobs

Posted on 06 October 2011 17 comments

Article illustration for Steve Jobs

This morning I awoke to the sad news that Steve Jobs had died, and although the blogosphere is already full of tributes to the man and I’m wary of adding to the noise, I wanted to pen a few quick thoughts of my own.

Apple’s recent successes — the iPad, the iPhone, the iPod, and iTunes — brought Steve Jobs and Apple to the attention of the general public. That’s not to say that both he and the company were not widely known before that — of course not — but the average person in the street had been unaware of them until recent times. My Mum knows who Steve Jobs is. Two or three years ago, she did not.

Even the Mac itself is enjoying more success than it ever has before, moving from the niche realm of designers and tech enthusiasts to the public at large, thanks mainly to new products like the MacBook Air or the iMac (the first incarnation of which signalled the beginning of Apple’s renaissance when Steve returned to the company in 1997) and the trust placed on the Apple brand thanks to those aforementioned consumer-facing products: the iPad, the iPhone, the iPod, and iTunes.

So, then, we see reports on today’s news covering Steve’s legacy by recounting these recent product successes. But the general public and mainstream media seem largely oblivious to the impact this incredible man had on their daily lives long before they knew his name or that of his company.

In that famous video of Steve’s Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005, one of his anecdotes recalls the story of how he dropped out of college and dropped in on typography classes:

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them.

~ Steve Jobs

That last sentence on Windows is not a dig: it’s a truth. Windows may be the most popular (well, most used) operating system today, but most people forget how heavily influenced it was by the early Mac OS. We’re not just talking about aesthetic touches; this is nothing less than visual interface paradigm-shifting and the establishment of iconographic metaphors that we still use today.

Susan Kare's interface icons

Consider Susan Kare’s early Macintosh icons (above). GUI metaphors such as the trash can, the lasso, and the paint bucket are all still with us; as is the infinity symbol on the Mac’s ‘command’ key and her typefaces such as Chicago, which was even used as the system font for the iPod until fairly recently. Sure, Susan deserves the credit, but without Steve, these might never have existed. It’s no coincidence that he took her with him to NeXT in 1985 to act as the Creative Director, and it’s certainly no coincidence that she later went on to produce iconography for Windows.

It’s also easy to forget just how revolutionary the iPod was. It may be a much more recent an achievement than the early Macintosh, and certainly one that’s much more public-facing, but this was a product that didn’t just change portable music players: it changed the music industry. It made digital music a real possibility for those who had ignored other MP3 players, and the iTunes Music Store turned the recording industry on its head, forcing labels to adjust their business models to face the reality of this new medium. This is truly revolutionary stuff.

As sad as it is to hear of Steve’s passing, what an incredible sense of achievement he must have felt as he looked back on his life. My personal wish is that the general public and mainstream news agencies recognise not just his recent successes, but the incredible impact he had on our everyday lives. In my opinion, this quotation, also cited in the Guardian article, should be everybody’s mantra:

Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.

~ Steve Jobs

Thank you, Steve.


  1. Jamie Brightmore

    Jamie Brightmore

    06 October 2011 @ 11:25AM #

    Nice words Elliot. That last quote is so poignant and highlights the real reason why Steve was just so influential to many, especially us designers. He will be sadly missed.

  2. Ashkas


    06 October 2011 @ 11:50AM #

    Great eulogy to the man. It’s been further disheartening to see some of the digs from professionals, who don’t look at the influence he’s had on everything they do, rather highlighting their disdain for people who look up to Steve.

    I do what I do in User Experience, all because of my incredible experience of using a Mac back in ’86.

  3. Toasterdroid


    06 October 2011 @ 12:38PM #

    Nice article Elliot. And for me personally, Apple may just never be the same without him. Steve WAS Apple.

  4. Stephen Dixon

    Stephen Dixon

    06 October 2011 @ 12:38PM #

    That’s a great eulogy, Elliot. I’ll say again what I said on Twitter when the news broke, I’ve cried because I feel like I’ve just lost a friend. I never knew him personally, but I didn’t have to. He’s touched my life with his. 

  5. Antony Ware

    Antony Ware

    06 October 2011 @ 04:39PM #

    Beautiful eulogy Elliot. Got to agree with Stephen, he definitely touched our lives with his. Been teary eyed all day, feels like I’ve lost a member of the family. So sad. Gone too soon. Thanks again for taking the time to write such a deserving eulogy.

    Thank you Steve indeed.

    Greetings from South Africa.

  6. Nick Cliffe

    Nick Cliffe

    06 October 2011 @ 04:45PM #

    As always Elliot, you have written his eulogy so eloquently – I’m sure Apple would be proud to include it on their official SJ tribute page. Although it was not unexpected it put a big cloud on my day too and so I sent the following to rememberingsteve@apple.com :
    It is sometimes a measure of how great and influential people were when everybody remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened. So sad that he was only 56 but my goodness he achieved so much in that short lifetime.

    Everybody needs a hero and Steve Jobs was one of mine – he certainly played a big part in changing the world as we knew it. His perfectionism and vision certainly drove everyone in the business forward including his competitors so we’ve all ended up with great products.

    On a summer’s day in 1995 I switched on a Mac Quadra 800 which I had bought second hand; I had never used a computer before that day. But I put my Magic Markers down for the last time and it said a lot for the intuitive visual way that the Mac OS (System 7 in those days!) worked that I was able to immediately wade into Quark Xpress, Illustrator and Photoshop to create ads, leaflets and posters that actually went to print and got published.

    It was a heck of a steep learning curve and my brain hurt for some time as it was even processing the new software in my sleep! But the Mac UI was so cleverly written that I was able to concentrate on the applications rather than how to use a PC – I doubt I’d have integrated so quickly with computing had it been a Microsnot UI I was using!

    So, a big Thank You to Steve Jobs – he (not forgetting the brilliant co-workers he had the foresight to employ) changed my life for the better. Now he’s gone it’s the end of an era, but he’s left the world a brilliant, hugely wealthy and influential company. Let’s hope it continues to follow his – and our – dreams.

  7. Ben


    06 October 2011 @ 07:19PM #

    Thanks to Elliot for bringing back those memories. I am writing from Caracas and I remember when my friends got their first Apple II. It dispayed on a TV and used a large 5 1/4" floppy disk drive. That was before the mouse hit the street. I admit to been more MS DOS oriented, and my first mouse was a free gift when I purchased my first Word processor software for my IBM PC, DOS 2.1, 1984. That very first mouse, if I am not mistaken, was a joint development by Apple and Xerox. The rest is history.
    For those who haven’t, chek Steve’s speach at Stanford graduation 2005.

  8. Pablo S.

    Pablo S.

    06 October 2011 @ 07:30PM #

    Amazing words. We created a humble tribute collecting all twitter users who thanked Steve here: http://tothecrazyone.com
    Hope you can join in!

  9. Roy


    06 October 2011 @ 07:51PM #

    Steve Jobs is such a source of inspiration for me. I always knew I wanted to design. But designing is a broad concept. Thanks to Steve’s keynote about the Mac OS X interface (buttons that look so good you would like to lick them) I knew I wanted to make interfaces. That’s what I like and what what I do now.

  10. Web Design Atlanta

    Web Design Atlanta

    07 October 2011 @ 06:49AM #

    Nice article, Steve jobs is inspiring person for today’s generation especially three stories of Steve jobs, which he explained in one college

  11. David


    08 October 2011 @ 08:40AM #

    Very sad and touching.
    A great man has left the world.
    R.I.P. Steve Jobs

    Full of awe, David

  12. Stéphane


    09 October 2011 @ 07:51AM #

    Very nice article, well documented, as usual.

    I even didn’t know Steve Jobs had died as I was on a trip without network, and I have to admit I am rather sad about that, he was a guy I admired a lot.


  13. Ben


    10 October 2011 @ 08:50PM #

    Really nicely written Elliot.

    That last quote is just excellent…

  14. BloggerPete


    13 October 2011 @ 07:40PM #

    Nice article, Elliot. It’s been days after and I still can’t believe it.

    You guys should check out this tribute site I found for Steve : www.pixt.com/remebersteve

    Tons of cool fan tributes and I think you can even upload your own stuff for others to see.

  15. Tech Jim

    Tech Jim

    20 October 2011 @ 08:26PM #

    Jobs was a wonderful, mysterious, amazing GENIUS. I always waited for his next product, as they felt like gifts. He will be so missed. But, he was kind of like Garbo, so mysterious and private. I am waiting to listen to the new bio by Isaacson, to learn about the man we adored, but only really knew through his creations. Isaacson did a great book on Einstein, so I have high hopes for this book. It is coming out October 24 on Amazon, iTunes and PremierAudiobooks.I want the audio version, so I can listen to it on my iPhpne. I hope that some how Apple has more creative, wonderful, insanely excellent people, that will continue Job’s creative legacy.

  16. The Web Squad

    The Web Squad

    21 October 2011 @ 06:57PM #

    Jobs will truly be missed, he lead the foundation of user friendly computer operating systems that had provided seamless CPU productivity and R&D.

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