What Steve Jobs Taught Us About Beauty

My friends know that, for good or ill, I am neither technically oriented nor have much appreciation of pop music. Yet I was very interested when a friend recently showed me a tribute to Steve Jobs from Bono.

I do know that Apple computer owners from the very beginning have loved their machines and were loyal to the brand. Most, perhaps all, of my artist friends choose Apples over PCs. And for sheer aesthetics, Apple computers have more beauty than the functional looking PCs. Finally, I must admit that my PCs are always breaking down. Whenever this happens, perhaps monthly, my friends say, “If you owned an Apple, this would not happen to you!”

Marilyn, my wife, knows even less about computers than I do. So when her last PC died, she bought a used Apple. And she loves it. She loves the ability to make an appointment at the Apple Store and receive great service. She can go in and get instruction on how to use a certain feature of her computer. In the rare event that something goes wrong, she can get it fixed quickly. There is a culture at Apple of service, excellence, and of kindness toward “technically challenged” customers. This much is obvious to someone who has little technical knowledge or interest.

Which brings me back to Bono’s tribute. He said something provides the clue to the success of the Apple brand. Steve Jobs had a passion for beauty and for excellence. Bono writes:

I really respect people who are involved in business who have an artist’s eye and ear. There are very few. Steve was a very, very tough and tenacious guardian of the Apple brand, but the thing that endeared him to artists was his insistence that things had to be beautiful. He wasn’t going to make ugly things that made profits.

The big lesson for capitalism is that Steve, deep down, did not believe the consumer was right. Deep down, he believed that he was right. And that the consumer would respect a strong aesthetic point of view, even if it wasn’t what they were asking for. He believed that deep down, if he served what was right and what was great, then he would serve the Apple shareholder, and if he chased what they wanted, he would let them down.

The culture of the kingdom of God is manifest in Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. These virtues are to be integrated into all of our lives. Bono records that he knows very few people in business that have an artist’s eye. And sadly, too many Christians are governed by the culture of mediocrity and utility. We seem to have little concern for beauty. But Steve Jobs knew something that few of us grasp. He understood the importance of beauty, not only in the arts, but in business. He understood the Biblical virtue of excellence, even as this virtue is often forgotten by the church and thus by Western culture.

Christendom is healthy when she recognizes and lives the culture of the kingdom, the culture of excellence and beauty. Healthy Christian business people are concerned with making things that are excellent. They ask not only “is this product profitable?” but “is it moral?” And, “is it beautiful?” Healthy Christian writers relate ideas that impact the nation and not simply entertain bored readers. Healthy Christian musicians create music that is life affirming and beautiful, not death pursuing and repellant.

Steve Jobs “wasn’t going to make ugly things that made profits.” For Jobs, beauty took precedence over profits. He understood that human beings are wired for beauty. And when we are confronted with the beautiful–in a sunset, a field of spring flowers, the lovely form of a pregnant mother, or, yes, in a computer–we recognize the beauty. And, if we can escape the tyranny of pride for a moment, it touches something in our soul.

In spite of the absence of any profession of faith in Christ, Jobs’ commitment to excellence, the value he placed on people, and his eye for beauty (even in the manufacture of computers) … all these are kingdom virtues. Some non-Christians exemplify these truths more clearly than some Christians.

We can be grateful that a man of Steve Jobs’ creativity and vision also had a heart for beauty and excellence. In this he has reminded us something of the eternal.

-          Darrow Miller

  
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2 Responses to What Steve Jobs Taught Us About Beauty

  1. Why do I love this post?

    Is it because I deeply appreciate the writings of Darrow Miller (and the ministry of DNA) and how much he as influenced my life and ministry?

    Is it because I really like the music of U2, and appreciate the way Bono, as a Christian, has used tried to his global influence to advocate for justice and mercy among the poor?

    Or is it because I have been using Apple computers for 25 years, and, as a graphic designer and advocate for cross-cultural partnership, deeply appreciate how Apple’s products have contributed to my success?

    Thank you, Darrow, for pulling it all together in a way that acknowledges the integration of beauty and excellence in the Christian worldview, and that our great God is the source of every good and perfect gift.

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