Apple co-founder gave us what we want, before we knew we wanted it – a skill the best architects share
‘People don’t know what they want until you show it to them,’ Steve Jobs once said. The innovative Apple co-founder died today at 56.
When he said it, Jobs was explaining why he didn’t use focus groups for product development, preferring to go it alone.
The ability to intuit what people want is something Jobs did well, inventing aesthetically-beautiful personal computers, iPods and iPhones before we knew we needed them.
It’s a skill shared by the very best architects. Discerning what a client really wants, even when they can’t express it. Delivering a design that intuits their future needs, as well as the present ones. Putting in that little bit extra, to exceed their expectations.
My father worked in the automotive industry, and he calls that little bit extra ‘a surprise and delight’. This referred to the reaction you got as a user when you found the perfect slot in your car for your sunglasses, or a cup holder just where you wanted it, just when you needed it.
Intuiting a client’s needs takes a certain measure of ego – the confidence to put forward something that hasn’t been requested, to presume that ‘architect knows best’.
It’s a confidence that the current education system and culture of architectural practice tries its best to undermine, with dismissive design critiques and tutors who are all too often verbally abusive. Not to mention procurement panels, design frameworks, community engagement, etc.
Jobs’ lesson for architects and architectural students is to hold your nerve. If you can intuit what your client needs, design in ‘a surprise and delight’. If you get it right, success is certain. If you don’t get it right, each failure shortens the learning curve. Nothing risked, nothing gained.