Steve Jobs (1955-2011): “Tools For All”

Tools for All was the motto of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog. Just take a pause and think about those three words a second, relative to Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs died yesterday in California, age 56.

One of the most widely circulated Jobs’isms since he had to resign his job as CEO at Apple this August was his 2005 Commencement speech at Stanford, “as close to a College commencement as I’ve ever been;” he told the graduates. He related how he dropped out of Reed College and became a “drop-in,” on classes for the next 18 months. A calligraphy class had direct bearing, a decade later, on his decision to design the Macintosh computer with serif and sans-serif fonts, and proportional spacing between the letters.

That in turn had bearing on the consumer choices I made as a young writer and designer working in publishing in New York out of college in the 1980s. We called “fonts,” “faces,” then, short for “typefaces.” I often still do, which confounded the heck out of the first web developer I found, in 2008, a Windows guy who never stopped hissing about Macs.

My very first laptop purchase was of a Macintosh Powerbook 145. That occasioned a party in my apartment. My girlfriends and I huddled around the screen and its background of little pointillist polka dots. It was a big moment and one that came to mark my first electronic publishing venture (Ideas and Resources/Fashion Accessories International; a mouthful!). We used my Mac to learn Quark Xpress, with training at Sam Flax Art Supply Store (!), and put aside the sharp Exacto knives and sticky rubyliths.

And then the meaningful coincidence. Shortly before I moved to New Mexico in 1992 I read a novel, a great novel, called Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson. I’d been writing a book myself, and my book and her book had in common that the main characters were mother and daughter. With astonishment, I came to learn that Steve Jobs (who was adopted) and Mona Simpson were biological brother and sister. Genetics, clearly.

I never watched Jobs’ Stanford speech until last night. Thank you, Steve Jobs. You made my life as it now is, possible. You made design matter and you made design work. Now go watch this speech for yourselves. (6 million have watched it already, but if you’re not one of them, it may make your day.)


Write us your thoughts about this post. Play nice.