When you talk about Steve Jobs, people often think about his role in building Apple and the incredible products that were created under his leadership.
But there is another story of Steve Jobs which everyone seems to never notice or forget. His role at creating NeXT computers.
NeXT was the new computer company that Steve Jobs founded after resigning from Apple. NeXT workstation was made for education and enterprise.
Unlike Apple, NeXT was founded from the ground up as a design-thinking company, with some huge design talent attached.
The two key people who helped Steve Jobs make NeXT the original “design is law” computer company was, Paul Rand and Harmut Esslinger
Paul Rand was a graphic design legend who designed the logos for Esquire, IBM, ABC, and UPS, among many others. When Rand got involved with NeXT, Jobs told him that his next computer would be a perfect cube. Rand pitched him a cube, tilted at a 28-degree angle for the logo.
Steve Jobs being Steve Jobs, demanded tons of options to consider. Paul Rand sneered at him. “I will solve your problem, and you will pay me,” he told Jobs. “You can use what I produce, or not, but I will not do options, and either way, you will pay me.”
In the end, Rand had his way. Jobs had to take whatever he got. But Jobs being a stickler for minute details, thought the yellow used in the “e” was too dark and asked Rand to change it.
Rand was definitely not happy about it. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years! I know what I’m doing.” The color stayed. Rand was probably the only person who won an argument head-on with Steve.
Hartmut Esslinger is the founder of Frog Design. He originally conceptualized the “Snow White design language,” which Apple used until the 1990s. When Jobs was starting NeXT, Esslinger jumped ships by ending his contact with Apple.
From the earlier part of the story, we know that Steve wanted to create a computer that would be a perfect cube.
From Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, most parts cast in molds have an angle that is slightly greater than 90 degrees because the extra degrees make it much easier to get the parts out of the mold.
But both Steve and Esslinger were not the ones to make such compromises. They believed that it would affect the “purity and perfection” of the NeXT cube. So the sides had to be produced separately, using molds that cost $650,000, at a specialty machine shop in Chicago.
Manic attention to detail went even as far as the inside of the NeXT computer. Not only did all of the screws feature expensive plating, but the inside of the magnesium case was also a fancy matte black, even though almost no one would ever see it.
Although most consider NeXT computer as a financial failure and one of Steve’s biggest failures. NeXT’s design legacy does not end at its logo and hardware.
Almost 11 years later, Apple acquired NeXT for the new OS they were building. OS X is a modified version of NeXTStep, the operating system Jobs created for NeXT. NeXT created the design legacy, which eventually played a role in the making of other Apple products.
During this acquisition is when Steve returned to Apple as the interim CEO. And the rest, as they say, is history.
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