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The roots of Steve Jobs' design genius

Justin Grey
23 September 2011 2 minute readShare

We don't have a new entrepreneur profile for you this week, but we do have a little-known insight into the stunning success of Steve Jobs.


It's well-known that Jobs was fired by Apple and then returned to lead the company to astounding success.

But fewer people know that some of his methods were inspired by, of all things, a washing machine.

Here's what he told Wired magazine, way back in 1995, a time when he was working on another business between stints at Apple.

"Our family just bought a new washing machine and dryer," he told the magazine. "We didn't have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them."

"It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better - but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don't trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer."

Learning those facts made for some interesting times around the Jobs family kitchen table, as the article says "We spent some time in our family talking about what's the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family."

The debate contemplated variables including speed of wash, how clothes felt after a wash, how long clothes last, environmental responsibility and more.

The family ended up buying Miele appliances which then, as now, attracted a premium price.

Jobs was sure the extra money was worth it: "They are really wonderfully made and one of the few products we've bought over the last few years that we're all really happy about. These guys really thought the process through. They did such a great job designing these washers and dryers. I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years."

It's not hard to see how that washing machine informed Apple's philosophy once Jobs returned to the company he founded, as the company released product after product that wasn't the cheapest but was nearly always beautifully thought out and did a better job than any predecessor.

And here's another piece of vintage Jobs. This old video starts with the quote "To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, this is a very noisy world and we are not going to get a chance to get people to remember a lot about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us." It's worth putting up with the dodgy audio to hear the rest!

The roots of Steve Jobs' design genius
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Justin Grey

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