I’ve lived about a mile from Apple campus in Silicon Valley for over 20 years. In my early design life, I even helped design some Apple products and advanced concepts. From that time until now, whether it was via my neighbors or friends that worked at Apple or from industry buzz in the Valley, I’ve developed a picture of “Steve” (you just say “Steve,” and people in the Valley know which Steve you mean). My favorite wink-and-nod rumor was that Steve was really a robot that Wozniak created to rule the world. At a distance, that seems plausible. But with this in mind, one connection with Steve stands out to me.
My company ASTRO Studios started in the mid-’90s in downtown Palo Alto, where we shared a small private parking lot with Steve and his private office. In fact, our windows faced each other on this narrow tree-lined street. More than once Steve would be trying to park his stainless-steel Mercedes as our crew was finishing an RC car race on the back lot. He’d patiently wait for us to finish, then give us a look of “You boys have your fun; I’m changing the world,” or maybe it was a look of envy at our ability to just hang out and play. Tough to know for sure.
From a design perspective, I have always believed Steve to be foremost a hard-driving, ultra-focused design and innovation junkie with the strength of vision and purpose to build the world’s best brands. He has been great for design. By putting design in front of and on par with other critical business disciplines, Steve has set a bar many leaders aspire to but few have been willing to invest enough capital, vision, and talent to attain. This authentic persona has always endeared him to the Bay Area design community, and to have him in our backyard gives many of us inspiration and confidence.
Now back to my testimonial. Over the years, we’d exchange quick neighborly acknowledgments as Steve came and went, and it eventually felt normal to have a famous guy as our lot buddy. Steve’s office was set up before he had returned to Apple the second time, and we’d often see him meeting at odd hours with teams from Pixar and Apple, the press, and others fortunate to have audience with Mr. Jobs.
But the thing I remember most often was seeing Steve looking out the back window of this office where he had set up a little gym, his head bobbing up and down as he climbed the StairMaster. Our young design team could look out from our front window to see this Valley icon sweating, swigging water, and toweling his red face — just like the rest of us. It gave me a sense that he’s not just a living legend but also a regular guy with a lot of dreams that came true one step at a time. And it also proved to me that he’s not a robot.
[Photo by seier+seier]