Mind & Matter


Innovation and the Emotional Connection

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Mourners lament Steve Jobs's death. Photo: ABC.


Despite grappling with illness publicly over several years, Steve Job’s recent death came as a big shock. One of the most celebrated and successful design and technology innovators of our time, Jobs made an indelible impact on the computer, telecommunications, and music industries. He transformed the way many of us conduct daily tasks and interact with media—an incredible feat considering that he returned to Apple a mere 15 years ago.

What strikes me as particularly moving is the visible outpouring of grief for Jobs around the world. Most Silicon Valley executives and inventors would not inspire people to create makeshift shrines or light candles after their passing—so what is it about rare individuals like Jobs that elicit such responses? Surely it isn’t due to the depth of the mourners’ passion for iPods.

I believe that Jobs achieved the exceptional task of making emotional connections to users through design. This may sound far-fetched, but Jobs’s relentless drive to create products that ensure “the customer gets an experience that is an absolute delight”—as former Apple executive Tony Fadell told the New York Times—may be the single most important factor that distinguishes Apple’s most successful products from those of its competitors.

Inherent in this goal is the pursuit of innovation, an aspect of design that is discussed surprisingly infrequently in design academia and practice. As Michael Graves recently told CNN, “Designers often neglect the essence of innovation when they are overwhelmed with the requirements of the product they are designing. The Apple Store design, the product design, the hardware design and software design all come down to innovation—something not tried before.”

If there is one message that Jobs has left behind, it is the importance of pursuing innovation in work that we love. As design becomes an increasingly critical factor in the realms of business, technology, and the environment, we should all take this lesson to heart. As Jobs stated at the end of his Stanford University commencement speech, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” I believe we owe it to Jobs’s legacy—and the future of architecture—to follow these words.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.