Steve Jobs, the Art of Bauhaus and Technology

My past would suggest I am about to write a blog about the legendary goth band led by Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash, but for those who know my past you will be disappointed to know that this will not be the case.  Sorry.  Wherever I can I will try to reference the band for those who care to read further.  How did this rather unique title come about?  I have been reading the biography of Steve Jobs and though not completed I have been fascinated by his thought process in the early days around development of the Macintosh.  He was thinking beyond simple features and even back in the early 80’s was thinking about the aesthetics of what he was building.  This   It was at a time when PC’s were just becoming reality and for the most part they were simply functional and frankly plain ugly.  It’s this marriage of tech and art that I find very interesting as it has become and will become more prevalent moving into the existing decade and beyond.  It was a major reason for the rebirth of Steve Jobs.

The Bauhaus art movement started in Germany following the end of World War 1, in fact many say Bauhaus 1919 was the start of this simplistic and minimalist art style.   What makes it interesting and relevant to Apple is the movement was a response to the rise of machines and technology following World War 1, which was the first war to introduce, new weaponry to the battlefield in mass.  New inventions produced on  a mass scale such as tanks, planes, battleships etc..came of age during this gruesome war.  However out of all that bloodshed new ideas and ways of thinking emerged in society The simplicity of the Bauhaus art movement captivated Steve Jobs and he was influenced by the art in designing the first Mac.  To be clear it was one of many art influences, not to mention the design of Braun hand blenders that would drive Steve Jobs forward.  For Steve Jobs simplicity was a necessary component of creating great technology, not just the guts of the PC but the overall look, feel and beauty of the PC.

That intersection of art and tech is what I have found interesting and visionary in reading the Jobs biography.  For those who remember the early days of the PC, the Microsoft mantra was “Your PC can be any color you want as long as it is beige”.  Prior to the rise of flat screens, the CRT’s we had were large, bulky and hideous.  In fact in the early evolution of technology the PC was just plain ugliness.  However Jobs never saw it that way, it would just take 20 years for his vision to become reality.  In the early days he was fascinated by that intersection.  I found it interesting that he would go down to an appliance store and look at the design of a hand blender and think about how some of that German simplicity could make it into the PC. He gravitated towards the Italians and their elegant designs and then to the stark simplicity of a post World War 1 art movement in Germany, the Bauhaus.  From under the black sun he gravitated toward something that would come to define the future of computing.

It is amazing to me that in an industry built on vision that so few were able to see that meeting of software, hardware and fashion.  The two former started in the realm of the engineer.  The latter starts in culture, in the world of day-to-day life.  It has taken many years but over time the technology has morphed and shrunk in size that we see the realm of software and hardware impact all parts of our lives and further.  How we listen to music is no longer the giant stereos with mondo speakers that we saw in the 70’s.  The phone is no longer a single purpose device.  The car is becoming a software platform   Entertainment content is leaving our television.  Glasses are taking in a new multifaceted dimension.  How we read is morphing.  Everything is becoming smaller and more simplistic in look and feel, yet the  technology is becoming infinitely more powerful.

Steve Jobs was seeing this connection before it truly existed, he was taking the art of simplicity and incorporating it into technology, both what was visible to the average human and also what was not visible to the average human.  When I was at Microsoft it was a mode of thinking that just did not exist.  Mainly because we saw only the functionality of technology and its application to society.  It’s physical beauty was never a part of the equation (this was primarily due to the fact that Microsoft had little to no involvement in hardware).  Fast forward to today and the world of tech surrounds everyone and more importantly it is all in color.  Every new Smartphone that is unveiled seems to come with a big announcement around what colors will be available, not to mention the screen design usually matches the color of the phone, very chic.  You now see the old Bill gates mantra of, “You are either a software company or a hardware company”, is seemingly dead.  Microsoft will be releasing and manufacturing their own tablet, the Microsoft Surface.  Steve Jobs made Microsoft do this.

Steve Jobs in death seems to still exist with the launch of the new iPhone 5.  The iPhone 5 was on the drawing board before he passed away.  But the Steve Jobs imprint lives on.  The emphasis on bold and beautiful screens.  The software is great but the picture and design are fantastic.  It is elegant.  It will be interesting as we move forward if Apple can keep its simple designs pure the way Steve Jobs would have envisioned them.  The art of fashion is a timeless thing that is constantly invented and reinvented.  It lasts.  Now some of those earlier inventions and designs may and will incorporate technology.  The art of Bauhaus is coming back in 21st century style with old designs and new capabilities.  It is an inspiring legacy that at times looked back into history to move us forward.  I like fashion.  I like simple elegance.  This is a great time we live in and the future only gets brighter.What started nearly a hundred years ago is being brought back to life and we can all thank Steve Jobs

Goodnight and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann September 17, 2012

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