Today's Obsession: Scully on Jobs

Four days ago, Cult of Mac hosted a frank interview with former Apple CEO John Scully, talking specifically about Steve Jobs. I usually grind my teeth at any hint of a cult of personality, like the one that this interview implies, but after reading it, my mind is changed. It sounds like, from Scully’s work with Jobs, that the man actually is deeply minimalist, and does actually believe that good design begins with the user’s experience.

Lately (and, it seems, mostly in light of the antenna-gate silliness) there have been a lot of characterizations of Jobs’s working personality as needlessly tyrannical and nit-picking. But, as Scully puts it in his interview, “It’s okay to be driven a little crazy by someone who is so consistently right.” The focus has lately not been on Jobs’s correctness, but on his methodology.

My takeaway from this interview is not a belief in a personality, but a belief in a design process that is proven to work: a strong opinion guiding the overall direction—starting with a user’s impression, ending with how it’s constructed—followed by qualification of the design during iterative steps.

Now, this interview does fall apart for me in some notions: for Jobs to be such a believer in a design recipient’s impression leads me to wonder, for example, why editing a playlist in the iPod app on iOS devices is so odd and so messed up compared with other operations sharing its experiences.

It feels … unfinished. The buttons to edit the playlist are easy to overlook. The list of tracks to be edited includes an obvious button to add a track, but no obvious way to scroll through the tracks rapidly. (Other screens do this with an alphabet at right, but this is the only one which doesn’t.) The search field is totally hidden with no indication of its presence. There’s no clear visual confirmation that the track’s been added, and there’s the possibility of leaving a playlist unfinished while doing other things within iPod. It’s a weird process to go through.

It seems that Jobs is more willing lately to let unfinished details into the public eye, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. While there’s a definite value in letting the public give feedback while design iteration happens, I wonder if we’re reaching a breaking point in the speed organizations can respond. Or, backing the conversation up further, if they should.

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