updated 10:56 pm EST, Mon January 7, 2013
Covers 'human-centric design,' Jobs, cancer, more
CBS' news magazine show 60 Minutes has run an interview hosted by Charlie Rose with longtime design guru and close friend of Steve Jobs, David Kelley. Kelley, who started the design firm IDEO, was the man behind Apple's original mouse and many other designs over the years. He is now head of his own school of "human-centric" design principles and recounted his friendship with Jobs, his struggle with cancer and other challenges in the interview.
In the interview (seen below, US only), Kelley remembers Jobs as a demanding client who was "deep into every aspect of things," sometimes calling Kelley at 3AM to discuss some new insight, always without any preamble (such as "Hi, it's Steve") or small talk. When asked what the biggest misconception about Jobs was, Kelley said it was that Steve intended to be malicious or cruel at times. "He was just trying to get things done and it was -- you just had to learn how to react to that," he said.
Describing Jobs as the man who "made" IDEO do some of its best work for him, Kelley's company eventually created the designs for the Apple III and the Lisa among other products. He told Rose of the obsession over detail for which Jobs was famous, including the design of the original Mac mouse. Given a budget of $17 per unit, Kelley's team originally focused on precision movement -- one inch of mouse movement equalled one inch of screen movement -- but quickly found that the human brain compensated for the differences in scale, allowing the mouse to move at a different (and adjustable) speed to actual movement, an early breakthrough in usability.
Jobs liked the mouse but said the roller ball made a harsh sound on the table, forcing Kelley to come up with a way to seamlessly rubber-coat the ball, at the time a huge technical challenge. When Rose asked him what would have happened if Kelley had simply said "no" to the request, as it was too difficult or expensive, Kelley joked that there would be "many expletives" but also added that Jobs would cajole people to try harder with lines such as "I thought you were good" and "I thought I hired you because you were smart. You're letting me down," consistent with others' tales of Jobs' often-harsh methods of motivation.
In addition to introducing Kelley to the woman who would later become his wife, Jobs also gave him straightforward -- and hard-earned -- advice when Kelley was stricken with a serious form of throat cancer in 2007. Jobs told him not to waste time on holistic treatments and instead work directly and quickly with Western medical advice -- a path Jobs had tried to avoid out of denial when he initially got his own, earlier, pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
"I think he had made -- in his mind, he had made the mistake that he had tried to cure his pancreatic cancer in other ways," Kelley said. "I mean, he just said 'don't mess around.'" Jobs later brought Kelley one of the first iPhones after they were announced to boost his spirits, and also taught Kelley a lesson about focusing on others while fighting the cancer. Jobs had concentrated on spending time with his family as he neared the end of his life, and it inspired Kelley to do the same with his daughter. In both cases, Kelley says it gave the two men motivation to stick around longer than they might have otherwise, as cancer treatment can be tiring and depressing and cause too much introspection.
Of the iPhone, Kelley related the tale of Jobs trying to get the unit set up through AT&T the day after the phone was announced -- and, like many first-day buyers, discovering that AT&T's setup could not cope with the influx of traffic, even after Jobs told the customer service rep who he was. "So he never really did get it hooked up [that day]," Kelley said.
With his cancer now in remission, Kelley spends his time running the popular design school at Stanford University, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (named after the billionaire IDEO client that funded the school). The institute promulgates Kelley's idea of "design thinking," which advocates the use of wide varieties of experience, research and studying human behavior to incorporate into designing products. The school offers no degree -- an idea Jobs contributed to the foundation -- and instead offers its concepts not just to professional designers but to people in other disciplines as a tool for general problem-solving.
"'I don't want somebody with [just] one of your flaky degrees, right?'" Kelley recalls Jobs saying. "But if they have a computer science degree or a business degree and then they've come and [had the institute's way of thinking] on top of that, I'm really excited about it."
In a typically contradictory fashion, Jobs eschewed focus groups and became more secretive -- but still very collaborative -- about design on his return to Apple in the late 90s. Under the leadership of current SVP of Design Sir Jonathan Ive, the company has created a plethora of iconic designs that are lauded for their usability, and subsequently widely imitated. Jobs was known to work closely with Ive and other designers, seeing design increasingly as a distinguishing factor that made Apple a market leader and infused the company with a "cool factor" that was difficult for competitors to capture.