Steve Jobs was a great believer in simplification. When he took over a failing Apple in the late 1990s, he reduced the number of product lines and increased organizational focus on just a handful of things. He transformed how the company did business with many changes running contrary to conventional best practices of the time.
Jobs also pushed his company to make a seismic shift in how they approached their audience. Instead of defining Apple as a PC company—a market category that Apple had largely defined nearly 20 years earlier — Jobs redefined Apple as a digital hub company. The new iMac would become the premiere personal digital hub in a new age of digital photos, video, and music.
In redefining its role, Apple expanded its market scope. For example, Apple moved millions of marketing dollars from its PC budget to its iPod budget. The rapid expansion of this new product category drove PC sales to heights Apple had not seen before.
When Jobs returned to Apple, he infused his personal obsession with outstanding products. Jobs and his all-star design team spent vast quantities of time designing and redesigning different physical and digital interfaces to make them simple, intuitive, and valuable.
Their focus was not on facilitating transactional interactions. Rather, it was on creating powerful, meaningful moments—transformational moments that changed how people saw things and did things. Design wins such as the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, and iCloud as well as new takes on laptops and PCs exemplified this.
Often Jobs and his design teams would butt heads with Apple engineering teams. Prioritizing the audience experience generated tremendous technical and process challenges. Simple for the customer often required complex engineering solutions.
Walter Isaacson, Jobs’ biographer, elaborated on the Apple founder’s drive for optimizing the audience experience:
Jobs’ belief in the power of simplicity as a design precept reached its pinnacle with the three consumer device triumphs he produced beginning in 2001: the iPod, iPhone and iPad. He immersed himself daily in the design of the original iPod and its interface. His main demand was ‘Simplify!’ He would go over each screen and apply a rigid test: If he wanted a song or a function, he should be able to get there in three clicks. And the click should be intuitive. If he couldn’t figure out how to navigate to something, or if it took more than three clicks, he would be brutal. ‘There would be times when we’d wrack our brains on a user interface problem, and think we’d considered every option, and he would go, “Did you think of this?”’ said Tony Fadell, the team leader. ‘He’d redefine the problem or approach, and our little problem would go away. –"How Steve Jobs’ Love of Simplicity Fueled A Design Revolution", Smithsonian Magazine, September 2012
Apple persisted in doing the hard things and reaped the benefits of their extra investment in design and engineering. The high standards, vision, and expectations that Jobs held Apple accountable for resulted unparalleled, groundbreaking audience experiences. Creating amazing products that resonated built consumer trust, created “pull” demand for their products, and expanded their footprint.