January 28, 2012

"From his father Jobs had learned that a hallmark of passionate craftsmanship is making sure that even the aspects that will remain hidden are done beautifully."

"One of the most extreme—and telling—implementations of that philosophy came when he scrutinized the printed circuit board that would hold the chips and other components deep inside the Macintosh. No consumer would ever see it, but Jobs began critiquing it on aesthetic grounds. 'That part’s really pretty,' he said. 'But look at the memory chips. That’s ugly. The lines are too close together.'"

Page 133, Walter Isaacson, "Steve Jobs" (p. 133). That was called to mind both by the last post — the one about Fred Stoller's uninspiring mother — and by a conversation we had last night about the value of doing one's own work according to your own high standards, even where your supervisors/clients/audience do not perceive the final increments of quality you have put into your craft.

If you are religious, you may believe that God sees and knows about this care and discernment and achievement of yours and even that you will be rewarded for it in the afterlife, but you can also work to this high standard purely for yourself, for the intrinsic value of the work and the work product. Somewhere in between is the idea that you do beautiful work because you learned it from your (earthly) father.

43 comments:

gerry said...

'But look at the memory chips. That’s ugly. The lines are too close together.'"

What bullshit. Lowering component real estate on a circuit board is an art, an accomplishment; increasing conductor size/spacing because of some goofy artistic sentiment is not craftsmanship.

It's bullshit.

I guess it's typical of slave-wage geek compulsives, eh?

Sorun said...

No it isn't bullshit. How could someone seriously criticize Jobs' choices in electronic design. He has a track record, you know.

ricpic said...

If you have high self-esteem doesn't matter how bad your work, the self-esteem stays high. Isn't that the new ethos being pushed by the best and the brightest on the worst and the dumbest? Not their kids of course, others kids, the disadvantaged ones who need help from the advantaged. You have to wonder whether turning America into a country of castes is intentional.

Pogo said...

Quality, standards, and beauty have no meaning without the hierarchy and love they demand.

Atheism lacks ranking by any means save power. Individual atheists in a larger religious society free-ride on their standards and may come to believe that humans can construct independent hierarchies.

Yet when this is done en masse, the only successful standard is viciousness.

The imperfect and sinful Christian societies produced the Renaissance and Silicon Valley.

Russia and Chinese atheists produced mechanized mass murder. Really high quality mass murder, though; I'll admit.

pm317 said...

Somewhere in between is the idea that you do beautiful work because you learned it from your (earthly) father.

For many who are not particularly religious, it is mere mortal human relatives who stand in for God. True in my case as may have been in Jobs' case -- for a man who seemed brash and crass, he seems to have revered his father.

The Crack Emcee said...

You can also work to this high standard purely for yourself, for the intrinsic value of the work and the work product. Somewhere in between is the idea that you do beautiful work because you learned it from your (earthly) father.

And, with that, Ann Althouse gets a glimpse into the atheist "cult" of hyper masculinity,...

Lem said...

Good aesthetics incentivises excellence.

The Crack Emcee said...

Pogo,

Atheism lacks ranking by any means save power.

Oh, Pogo,...I'm crushed.

EDH said...

As reinforcement, on everything produced, just put a little sticker that says:

"Inspected by Yahweh".

Pogo said...

Crack,
I think you might like to read The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens' brother and also an atheist, for much of his life.

Why he changed is fascinating, but informed by world travel and the exposure to mass godlessness.

Give it a spin. Not what you'd expect.

Kevin said...

"doing one's own work according to your own high standards, even where your supervisors/clients/audience do not perceive the final increments of quality you have put into your craft."

Dentists are good examples of that - the good ones pride themselves on the quality of their work, even if the average person can't tell the difference.

Carnifex said...

And he just LOVES slave labor, don't forget that!

Sorun said...

Dentists are good examples of that - the good ones pride themselves on the quality of their work, even if the average person can't tell the difference.

Exactly. And other dentists may see the handiwork, so it has a impact on one's reputation.

It's probable that thousands of engineers have seen the Mac's circuit boards, even if the average Mac user did not. Craftsmanship matters.

edutcher said...

I had a product manager like that.

He liked to see everyone jump through his hoops.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I make things for a living, and I also do it for fun. I make a wide variety of things, wood, metal and electronic. I take pride in making things that not only work well, but look good too. If there is a flaw in my work, hidden or not, it bugs the crap out of me, and I can't forget it. God may have made me that way, but I'm not doing it to please Him. All the same, I don't mind if He's watching.

alan markus said...

In this area of the state (south east WI)with a German heritage, we joke about things being "German-built", in a good way. A tendency to over-engineeer & over-build. That's why Milwaukee at one time was a strong manufacturing area, home to the likes of Harley-Davidson, Allen-Bradley, P & H Mining, etc.

Considering that Paul Jobs was born in West Bend, WI (Paul's ancestors born in Prussia)& raised on a farm in Germantown, WI and was a machinist, none of this surprises me.

Bender said...

you may believe that God sees and knows about this care and discernment and achievement of yours . . . but you can also work to this high standard purely for yourself

Here is Jobs working to this high standard purely for himself: "That part’s really pretty. But look at the memory chips. That’s ugly. The lines are too close together."

And here is the guy who made the chips that Jobs hates, who is working to this high standard purely for himself: "The chips aren't ugly. They are beautiful. The distance between the lines is exactly what it should be."

Who is right? By the "working to high standards purely for oneself" approach, both are right because each has applied his own purely personal standard.

But back in the world of Jobs, it is Jobs who is right. Not believing in God, Jobs is right because he is Jobs, he is the boss; he is right because he is powerful and the designer of the chip is weak.

Jobs is right because he is his own personal god and his will be done. Authentic aesthetics has nothing to do with it.

The Crack Emcee said...

Pogo,

Crack,
I think you might like to read The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens' brother and also an atheist, for much of his life.


I will, though I'm familiar with the debate between he and his brother.

Why he changed is fascinating, but informed by world travel and the exposure to mass godlessness.

As you know, I've traveled - even to China - and I never saw "godlessness' but it's replacement by the occult. That's a distinction i think most miss.

Give it a spin. Not what you'd expect.

I promise I will.

TMink said...

Colossians 3:23-24. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

It is nicely fleshed out in the Amplified Bible which fleshes out the meanings of the Greek.

Whatever may be your task, work at it heartily (from the soul), as [something done] for the Lord and not for men, Knowing [with all certainty] that it is from the Lord [and not from men] that you will receive the inheritance which is your [real] reward. [The One Whom] you are actually serving [is] the Lord Christ (the Messiah).

Nice that.

Trey

Joe Schmoe said...

I'd venture to say that Jobs' obsession with pure aesthetics 'under the hood' is overplayed in the book. Anyone who's engineered/designed products knows there's a ton of interplay among various factors when it comes to design. Obviously proper operation is a big one, but things like material options, how to assemble it, and how to service it are all big factors. Heat sinks need to be kept apart from components that are more heat-sensitive, etc.

Look at the Macbook Airs. Obviously under-the-hood aesthetics took a giant backseat to finding a combination of functional components that yielded an improbably thin and lightweight laptop.

William said...

In defense of the shabby: In Democracy in America, de Tocqueville discusses how European products are made for aristrocrats, and he praises the care and artistry that go into their manufacture. He compares this with American products that are designed for the many and which are made cheaply and shabbily. If I remember right, he uses the example of a cheap Waterbury watch that keeps poor time and soon breaks down. He compares this product with the finely crafted, although prohibitively expensive, pocket watches that the Europeans produced......Well, we have the judgement of history. Nowadays the cheapest Timex keeps better time than the most intricately crafted 19th century product. The down side of perfection is that it cannot be improved upon. The up side of shabby is that you can make it better and cheaper......Perhaps a better example is the transcontinental railway. Our first railway was a makeshift product that featured rickety spans and frequent derailments. However, it should be noted that in order to create a first rate railway it was necessary to have the resources of this cheap railway.....America: the land of the shabby in quest of perfection.

Ann Althouse said...

"But back in the world of Jobs, it is Jobs who is right. Not believing in God, Jobs is right because he is Jobs, he is the boss; he is right because he is powerful and the designer of the chip is weak."

You say that as if the job would be less oppressive if Jobs had believed his design principles came from God. Try to visualize this alternative, Jobs with the added certitude that God dictates these ideas and he (Jobs) knows what they are and demands you adhere to them.

Ann Althouse said...

"Look at the Macbook Airs. Obviously under-the-hood aesthetics took a giant backseat to finding a combination of functional components that yielded an improbably thin and lightweight laptop."

And a dysfunctional hinge.

Joe Schmoe said...

William, you touch on something I found more interesting in the Jobs bio than the unseen aesthetic, and that's the necessity of iteration when it comes to design. The more iterations, the better the design will become. Jobs visited Ives in the R&D lab almost daily, and Ives always had prototypes and markups of hardware and software to look at. This sort of ongoing refinement is crucial to a great product. So when you say 'shabby', I'd say more of an early iteration, and if something rose above shabby, maybe its producers went through enough iterations for it to mature into something much more substantial than its original.

Joe Schmoe said...

For what it's worth, I'm agnostic when it comes to computers. I don't prefer Apples or PCs; I just use what works for me at the time. I own both.

I actually don't like the Zen-ness of Apple's offerings. They're too simplified and anonymous to me, and they have no regional or provincial cues to them at all. They lack personality. I know, or think I know, what Jobs was going for, but I like my stuff a little more complex, and maybe reflective of what culture produced it.

Bender said...

You say that as if the job would be less oppressive if Jobs had believed his design principles came from God. Try to visualize this alternative, Jobs with the added certitude that God dictates these ideas and he (Jobs) knows what they are and demands you adhere to them.

If Jobs merely subjectively believed his design principles came from God, they would be oppressive because they would have been just as relative and arbitrary as his atheistic belief.

But if aesthetics are objective, if it is not merely Jobs' personal certitude, but is instead reflective of God who is Truth itself, then it is not and cannot be oppressive, even if one disagrees. Truth does not oppress.

If aesthetics are an objective truth, then there is a reality that transcends ourselves and exists above and beyond the physical, tangible universe. But if there is a transcendent reality, if what exists transcends what we can see and hear and think, then that opens up the possibility of the a transcendent being, a being one might call "God."

Michael K said...

The relationship between the aesthetics and ethics of work and religion is the subject of a very interesting novel by Neville Shute called "Round the Bend." Most of Shute's novels are about technology (He was an engineer) but very popular at the time he wrote. Many were made into movies.

glenn said...

When I worked on the inside of a piece of my furniture there was only one person I worried about pleasing. Me. Like a lot of other things he said Dad pretty much covered this issue with

"Gotta shave every day Son. Pays to look in the mirror when you do."

Joe Schmoe said...

Beautiful work is a misnomer as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are very few things viewed as universally beautiful. I'd say a more accurate term for what you're intoning would be quality, as that would encompass more than just looks; it also considers function, which is paramount to the overall aesthetic.

I've done junk work in haste. Having to revisit that work for maintenance, or using that work as the basis for another project, cured me of that urge rather quickly. If a dentist does junk work on a patient, he's going to have to deal with it in 6 months. If you claim you're doing all-around quality work because God sees it, I'd say you're a liar. You're doing it for yourself; either because you'll have to revisit your work at some point in the future, or someone else is going to have to deal with it and will make a value judgement on your crafstmanship (whether they know you or you're just the anonymous previous owner).

Roadkill said...

As a teenager I often worked with my uncle, an older, semi-retired handyman.

When roofing, he would insist that the tarpaper go on in perfectly straight and parallel rows, even though we would be shingling it over within minutes. Same with housewrap and siding. Leveling shims had to be neatly and squarely cut off around doors and windows, even though woodwork would soon cover them up. And concrete footings had to have neat, geometric forms around them, even though they would be buried as soon as they hardened.

My uncle would sometimes say he wanted it right "in case someone takes a picture before we're done." What I soon realized was that he wanted it all done right, even if no one else ever saw some parts of it. He took great pride in everything he built or repaired, and his example has stayed with me all these years.

Rusty said...

It's one thing to demand that something look pretty. it's a whole 'nother ball game in understanding why something is made the way it is.The two don't necessarily coincide.
CAFE standards come to mind.

Wally Kalbacken said...

I owned a house in the 1990's in Maple Bluff, that was built in 1951. Lots of built-in cabinetry, too few electrical outlets, but incredibly good materials (absurdly long runs of clear cedar siding, copper pipe everywhere, superb plaster, extremely thick oak flooring, etc.) I did a lot of remodeling and in the course of that work I opened up a wall, which exposed the back side of a site-built oak book case, a built-in. No one would have seen it from that perspective once the plaster was up, but it was done in genuine craftsman level construction. Today I suspect you could visit 1,000 homes under construction (if there are that many) and not find anyone with the refined cabinet/furniture/fine carpentry skills to do that.

I agree with gerry that designing circuit boards properly has nothing to do with aesthetics - in fact the minimization of footprint and circuit length is a critical objective. Maybe not as important in the day of early Macs, but very important today. Aesthetics should be approximately last on a list of criteria in that area of design.

Graham Powell said...

I am a perfectionist by nature, but it was definitely my father who got me to have high standards for even stuff that I didn't want to do. This has really helped me over the years.

I'm also very fortunate to work in a job where we are allowed to use our own judgement in how to get the job done.

Bob_R said...

I think Lem's point is the right one. The customer may not see it, but everyone on the factory floor does. If you are putting together something that looks like craftsmanship, you feel like a craftsman. Makes a difference in work performance, job satisfaction, company loyalty.

Laura said...

"It's probable that thousands of engineers have seen the Mac's circuit boards, even if the average Mac user did not. Craftsmanship matters."

Craftsmanship matters but an 'ugly' visual design is a minor criteria. More impressive is good use of space, placement of parts to minimize distances on key traces, eliminating vias and layers.

Good design on a printed circuit board can be recognized by those skilled in the art but applying aesthetics above other design requirements is not likely to impress designers.

Aesthetics was Job's hammer and he wielded it well in an industry that didn't respect it, but not everything is a ugly nail.

sleepless nights said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rsb said...

I didnt know Hitchens had a dumb brother.

Gary Rosen said...

"Aesthetics was Job's hammer and he wielded it well in an industry that didn't respect it, but not everything is a ugly nail."

Nice observation, Laura.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I think Jobs wanted to impress on his engineers that aesthetics mattered. A lot of engineers would like to forget about that. Jobs saw Apple products from a holistic POV.

Methadras said...

I'm sorry, but that's just fucking retarded. PCA (printed circuit board asseblies) are not meant to be 'pretty' what a moron. PCA/PCB design have no room for aesthetics, they aren't designed for that. No wonder his shit cost so much.

Methadras said...

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I think Jobs wanted to impress on his engineers that aesthetics mattered. A lot of engineers would like to forget about that. Jobs saw Apple products from a holistic POV.


I'm a mechanical engineer. I also do industrial design and I know what aesthetics is all about. It's my career. To apply aesthetic to something like a pcb is a time consuming, expensive proposition and requires very good planning. You have components that have to be grouped in certain ways. You have circuitry and traces that have to be oriented in a certain way, not just for length, but for timing. You have to account for how voltage and current are going through components, you have to figure out what sections do what and when while at the same time trying to keep your footprint as small as possible for the given form factor you have.

To implement aesthetics at that level might be a luxury that some companies have and it might appeal to the neat freaks cultists, but if you see how much stuff costs in an initial run of a product. Then you have to squeeze costs on top of that. Jobs may have learned how to keep things beautifully from his dad, but clearly his dad didn't teach him the type of practicality associated with running a business efficiently.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

@Methadras

I'm also a mechanical engineer. You must admit that you know the sort of engineer I'm talking about-- as long as the thing works, don't worry about what it looks like.

I suspect that, while the anecdote shows Jobs schooling his engineers in design, he was probably also striving to keep his designers aware of the engineering. Specialists get wrapped up in their own disciplines, but Jobs always had the whole product in mind.

Methadras said...

Tyrone Slothrop said...

@Methadras

I'm also a mechanical engineer. You must admit that you know the sort of engineer I'm talking about-- as long as the thing works, don't worry about what it looks like.

I suspect that, while the anecdote shows Jobs schooling his engineers in design, he was probably also striving to keep his designers aware of the engineering. Specialists get wrapped up in their own disciplines, but Jobs always had the whole product in mind.


True and luckily i can straddle both fences from a product design and development point of view, but when in all honesty, when you are mass producing products like this where costs are needed to be brought down for profitable sales, you can't rationally critique something like a PCB because the tantalum caps/resistors don't look right or they aren't oriented 'properly' or that the trace lines look all squiggly, etc. and have people look at you like you know what the hell you're talking about. It borders on the absurd.