Why So Few Steve Jobses?

I’ve always been an Apple guy. I had an Apple II GS, rocked System 6 on a Mac IIse, learned HyperCard, helped put together an alt-weekly in college with PageMaker on PowerMac G3s, had a first-generation iPod, bought an iPhone on the weekend of its release, etc. But reading over the Steve Jobs obituaries, I continue by the tales of unique genius. It always seemed to me, as an Apple fan, that the qualities Apple put together were pretty basic — gadgets that work well, which a lot of people do, paired with good design sense. And in fields that aren’t computers and electronics, lots of people seem to do this. There’s not some one single car company that’s capable of designing attractive automobiles. The basic idea that a lamp shouldn’t just be a place where you screw in a light bulb but should also look cool seems to have been mastered by any number of firms.

In computing, not so much. Even at the height of Microsoft’s power in the late-’90s, Windows 98 was oddly ugly. Surely the richest company on the planet could hire someone to design a better logo than this, right? Why were the default color combinations on Excel charts so wretched? Why didn’t anyone else bother to design power adaptors that look good?

To me, it’s a bit of a mystery. I see plenty of attractive refrigerators. Lots of hotels have nice lobbies. I’m not myself any kind of design savant, but there are lots of good designers out there. Why didn’t other firms full of engineers hire some of them? The proof is in the pudding, and evidently Jobs was way better at this than anyone else. But I didn’t understand it while he was alive and I don’t understand it now.