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Stories of Steve Jobs in Safari Design Reviews (2014) (donmelton.com)
233 points by Nuance 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments

im glad steve jobs did what he did, because i love my apple products as much as the next person, but everytime i read something like i realize there is no way i would have wanted to work for him even if i was "changing the world". life is simply too short.

This article is the first time I’ve read something abou Steve that makes me think, “I would totally love to work for Steve”

It’s the parts about how Steve conducts reviews. I feel like too many people beat around the bush, when asked a question they get flustered and make stuff up. I actually kinda enjoy being put on the spot. Say I don’t have an answer or give my personal opinion, or be open and honest, or have to come up with ideas and such. I don’t get flustered or bothered if I’m yelled at. I’ve had bosses that I think are worse than what Steve is sometimes described as. But damn if I haven’t enjoyed those reviews or design sessions.

I studied photography and one of the teachers was blunt about quality and talent to the point of rudeness. He'd tell people they wouldn't even make a photographer's arsehole, let alone a photographer.

The day he handed back one of my photographs and said "Congratulations, you're now a photographer's arsehole" was a good one.

I’ve watched ride for some very challenging demanding bosses. Two in particular were very smart, very capable and I learned a lot from them. They really brought the best out of me. I don’t think either were Steve Jobs calibre though, I’d have loved the chance to work with the guy.

This is a weird and fascinating read since it says almost nothing about Jobs (good or bad), but is only about the fear and fawning and deference of the people meeting him. There is nothing in the stories that explains why they have this fear and fawning. Apparently Jobs made some silly practical jokes where the fun was that the victims were initially too afraid of him to acknowledge the joke. But no hint of why people would be afraid in the first place.

Apparently Jobs asked how the IE bookmarks bar looked and this guy googled an image. And this was one of the must harrowing but ultimately triumphant moments of his life.

Story time with gramps!

Not sure if you're getting downvoted for "gramps" – but in case people don't know:


Wow yeah I hadn’t seen the downvotes but seriously anyone who has worked with him knows about “story time with gramps”.


This is how I know I would suck in a company like this. Yeah, it's Steve Jobs - but I find the level of reverence on show in this piece to be a little hard to take. It's certainly revealing of the culture there at the time.

> And when you can get the time for thoughtful reflection on your idea from a visionary like Steve — well, that’s a good day.

Being humble is one thing, but forcing yourself into this kind of fawning emotional servility feels dangerous to me. He was smart; he was lucky; he was a human, like anyone else. I don't think this level of hierarchy is something that I would seek to build at any of my startups, or would hope to support in a startup that I invested in or advised. It just feels unhealthy to me.

There have been stories outside Apple of Steve Jobs giving incredibly good feedback in a variety of areas and people being glad to have it. Have you considered the possibility that:

1. Steve Jobs was a couple of standard deviations better at this than almost anyone

2. As such, people were glad to get feedback from him

3. Such ability is rare and hard to identify, and so trying to replicate that structure is nonetheless not a sensible idea.

In other words, you're correct in your business practices, but possibly blinded to the fact that Steve actually was very, very good.

He had some priorities that are atypical in CEOs which made him better at making the kind of top-down decisions a lot of companies delegate to committees.

It's not particularly rare to have a decent sense of design, but it's rare for someone with a decent sense of design to be in a position to have the final say on mass-produced tech products. Especially true of the 90s and early 00s when Apple was making huge waves.

He was also a dick to a lot of people and petulant if he didn't get his way.

None of this stuff is mutually exclusive.

Upvoted for "None of this stuff is mutually exclusive". I tend to see a lot of "Steve Jobs was a genius!" vs. "Steve Jobs was a complete asshole!" competing narratives, when I always thought it seemed pretty obvious both were true.

Also, not only is this stuff mutually exclusive, but I think it is also (mostly) orthogonal. I get aggravated when I see or hear folks trying to emulate Steve Jobs' management style and they seem to focus on the asshole part but don't necessarily realize they're missing the genius part (see Elizabeth Holmes).

Like insisting that notes look like a leather bound notebook?

I'm confident he had good ideas. I'm also confident he had plenty of horrible ideas... Just like most intelligent humans.

Like insisting that notes look like a leather bound notebook?

It served its purpose: It introduced millions of people to taking notes on a portable electronic device by making the use of the device familiar and welcoming.

Remember, this is at a time when people had to be taught how to "swipe to open," how to scroll on a touch screen, and how to pinch to zoom. All of this was unfamiliar territory to the masses.

If the iPhone's initial operating system looked like Android's current design, it would have been much harder to get people on board.

(I still have my launch day iPhone. I fired it up a couple of weeks ago, and aside from the horrible pre-retina screen resolution, it was very familiar and comforting.)

“I'm confident he had good ideas. I'm also confident he had plenty of horrible ideas...”

... as you walk along you path you meet a man. 50% if the time he tells you sage advice that makes you a multimillionaire and 50% of the time he tells you sage advice that doesn’t make you richer. What do you value the mans afvice as?

It’s not a cult or a conspiracy when what the other part is selling actually materializes.

Does your evaluation change if, instead of making you fantastically rich his advice makes him fantastically richer?

If everyone has stock options, this isn’t quite true. And not sure about the eningeers, but the execs at Apple seem to be doing pretty well.

How many times can I ask his advice? If many times, I value it at over a half-million dollars a trial.

Sounds like the expected value of his advice is a half multi-millionaire, so yeah you should take it!

Given how much easier I've seen older relatives use iPhones in the skeuomorphic days vs now: I mostly lean towards skeuomorphic being preferable. It's not as fashionable now, but it is way more approachable and unambiguous.

> it is way more approachable and unambiguous.

I agree. My older relatives also have much harder times figuring out where to touch since the fully drawn buttons are replaced by just a text.

If skeuomorphism is the worst sin you accuse him of, he must have been pretty good at what he achieved.

I really don't understand the push against skeuomorphism besides "fashions change." I mean, I get that using so many physical world metaphors could be limiting, but the subsequent shift to everything just being circles, boxes and triangles, without any words, was so much more confusing and unnecessarily faddish in my opinion.

Like insisting that notes look like a leather bound notebook?

Is this objectively worse than the current practice of removing or hiding every visual cue and affordance, leaving the user to guess what they're supposed to be doing?

It seems like most skeuomorphism was at the direction of Scott Forstall rather than Steve Jobs, although Steve certainly allowed it to happen

Like someone else said, you can't talk about that decision without talking about the time and context in which it was made.

People were being introduced to wildly new concepts and it served to anchor people in familiarity.

Today, it's not as useful of an anchor for obvious reasons. Mobile phones and touch interfaces are ubiquitous.

“touch interfaces are ubiquitous.”

I feel old, but honestly this was just, what? 10years ago?! does nobody remember how everyone in the entire mobile industry proclaimed Apple would fails because touch interfaces weren’t tactile. yet today every single phone is basically a copy of the first iPhone just with better chips and random stylistic touches to differenciate?

For a moment, I thought you were referring to the authoritarianism/hierarchy as the “anchor of familiarity” - and everything Steve Jobs did in mass-tech as the “wildly new concepts” - you would still be right in the context of the executives and engineers he led.

he made a mouse with one button

The hype and celebrity worship (even at the time) make it nearly impossible to distinguish the man from his reputation. So in the end, there are few facts you can point to, just an awful lot of opinions.

I mean, you could point to the many products he was involved in, but there are a lot of subjective opinions there too.

There is a vast treasure trove of books, articles, interviews and stories from people that worked with him. Almost all of these include criticism.

Your comment gives the impression you've read none of this and only read meta-commentary. Or that you consider any person's story subjective and non-credible. In which case, what would you call a fact? The same standard would apply to any person.

(I wouldn't include the Isaacson bio, he regrettably focussed very little on Jobs' process.)

Fair enough. Is there anything you particularly recommend reading?

I enjoyed Becoming Steve Jobs. Covered the period of Jobs' return to Apple and also his growth of Pixar. His more mature phase, where he was able to nurturr organizations and had less of the unhinged asshole side about him.


Haven't read it, but I've heard there is a section of Creativity Inc where Ed Catmull talks about working with Steve and how they operated.

Finally, there's a site that occasionally surfaces here which had stories from the original Mac team. Folklore.org I think? That was a more raw period with more of a mix of immaturity in there.

But all of those have a variety of firsthand accounts.

I enjoyed that book. I recommend it. Details how the Steve Jobs that left Apple wasn't the same as the one that returned, along with the journey of how he got there.

The Pixar stuff in there was really interesting. Creativity Inc has been on my reading list because of that book.

Folklore.org is an excellent site, I loved reading about the early days of the mac and gained a great respect for the first Macintosh team.

In my opinion they really moved the needle on ubiquitous computing for the masses, and did a great job on their first attempt.

> a couple of standard deviations better at this

The crucial thing is that "this" in this case is product management. I'm fine with Jobs being the Caesar Augustus of product; what bothers me is when he starts being touted as the Christ of Business.

Yeah, he just built a business from nothing to huge thrice, including the #1 by market cap company on earth.

Did you forget about the part where he was run out of Apple by its board? And Apple was not the #1 by market cap while he was alive.

It worked though. Apple is the most valuable American company when measured by market cap. That didn’t accidentally happen.

Steve Jobs is the canonical example of why CEOs matter and are well paid.

Steve Jobs is the exception. Most CEOs aren’t that smart.

That didn't happen under Steve though... that happened under Tim Cook.

What if I'm "a couple of standard deviations better" at "giving incredibly good feedback in a variety of areas" too but lack the rest of Steve Jobs' talents so this "rare and hard to identify ability" feels like the only thing I'm really good at? How do I start a career around this?

Well, if you truly have that talent, you can probably be a highly successful consultant. Just start charging people for advice. You could start by offering advice for reviews to targeted high profile clients who need it, then seek referrals.

However, the first question to ask yourself is whether you really have that talent. If no one at all offers to pay, you likely don't. I don't mean you're bad at advice, rather instead that you're just not earth shatteringly good at it. Lots of people are good at advice without being able to build a career specifically around that.

Oh also, to be a highly effective consultant other skills would be required too of course. Empathy, business thinking, etc.

Jobs was only able to build a career around it by building companies around him. That's one way, but not easy, and also he had other talents and compulsions and vices that made his path what it was.

> 1. Steve Jobs was a couple of standard deviations better at this than almost anyone

This is a statistical oxymoron.

Yeah, you're right. I realized it when I came back and reread my comment.

Ah well, no editing now, it's up for posterity.

You mean tautology?

What could "a couple standard deviations better" even mean in the context of evaluating a product?

I would still argue that Apple benefited tremendously from Jobs. How I would hypothesize the benefit came is that a product winds up being a sort-of "single thing", each part coming together to a single experience for the customer. It's a paradoxical situation because a technological device is produced by a series of experts in multiple fields and with so many people involved. In an average company, the unity of the experience tends to be lost in multiple bureaucratic exigencies.

Jobs was able to put together a single (fairly good) vision into a product by having an absolute dictatorship on over the creation process. Hyperbolic "couple of standard deviations" claims aren't necessary. Artistry still is often a matter of one person (or a very small number of people) conceiving a vision. So letting Jobs be the painter drawing with other people talents worked and was better than twenty hands at the paintbrush. But it had the problem that absolute authority can work out to being cultish and abusive. No sure if there's a solution here.

I interpret his tone as one of respect. From everything I have heard and read about the man, he was worthy of respect. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to respect the opinion of people you work for, and to feel proud when they like your ideas.

I think it’s a mistake to think that everyone in a company is on the same playing field, that everyone is equal (not on a human level, but a company level). Companies have leaders, and leaders are in charge. You either accept that and work for them, or you start your own company and you become the leader.

When you accept a job working for someone else, you also accept that you are not in charge.

"Being humble is one thing, but forcing yourself into this kind of fawning emotional servility feels dangerous to me."

Ironically, this attitude may have made you a good candidate to work at Apple.

There are many anecdotes about Steve being blunt with people, in an attempt to figure out who will be honest with him and who is just trying to kiss his ass. He wanted to work with the former, of course. And this is hinted at a little bit in the article.

Maybe, but accusing people you don’t know, accomplished very capable people where were very high achievers even at the time, of ‘forcing’ themselves to be servile is a worrying sign. That’s not what the I got from the article, and I find it hard to see how it could be reasonably interpreted that way. I’d want to be very, very sure of myself before saying that of someone, and I find it difficult to trust the judgement or motives of someone who expresses themselves like that casually.

He's not asking you to trust his judgement. Random hackernews comment!

I understand what you are saying but I have a feeling you react that way because you weren't there and you are reading this disconnected after a lot of time. The fawning does not happen without merit, definitely will not sustain itself over time if its not deserved.

Similar to you thought, to me the most egregious thing is to see startups in san francisco that do something small and things similar to serving mobile ads using the phrase "changing the world" and recruiters trying to project the founder as some kind of visionary. Sure he started the company and its still a small one, lets not get carried away.

The way I think of it is that the brain must explain what the body is doing. If you notice that you're slaving away for weeks to prepare for a demo and you're really stressed about it, and what you're going to do is show the project you're an expert in to a guy who has some knowledge of it and then do what he says - you have to invent a reason for why you're doing this. For me, "I'm doing it for money and to keep my job" completely satisfies. For someone who is above such base notions there most be something higher - Jobs is a genius saint of Design.

> He was smart; he was lucky; he was a human, like anyone else.

And like nobody else, he was personally who made Apple, Macintosh, iPod and iPhone what they were.

In short, he many times proved to really be far from average.

No, he did not individually make those things. That is a phenomenal insult to the HUNDREDS of people that did the hard work of making those products.

He did not alone make them, but he made them they were. He was the one who decided from all the possibilities what will be implemented, how it will look like, how is going to be sold. We can talk about each of the items from the list, and his fundamental influence is provable for each. Without Jobs, all the things from the list would not even happen in the form they happened.

Having experienced this on the passing of a colleague, I think there are an equal mix of people that genuinely feel that reverence and people that talk it up in order to increase their standing, and both of those groups are generally in the minority at any organization (with the exception of cults.)

Point being, most people at Apple probably considered Steve as a person.

Regarding the design review practices, that all sounds like good advice and rather normal when presenting to a time and attention limited audience.

Perhaps thats why you would never build a company like Apple?

> between rounds of Overwatch

Ah, an Overwatch player. This explains everything ;)

In all seriousness, WSL has improved A LOT and I use it frequently on my gaming PC so I don't have to pull out my MacBook. Performance is definitely a bit worse but I have a Ryzen 2700X and an NVMe drive, so it's still plenty quick enough despite the inefficiencies on the software side of things. I used to always dual boot Linux on my desktops, but I just don't have a need to do that anymore.

"As a manager, you should never share such things with someone who reports to you."

Sharing a human moment (being upset that a superior is sick) w/ a subordinate is off-limits?

Anyone else annoyed by how deferential the author seems to be towards Jobs? Like surely after knowing him for a bit you'd get over that.

I've seen this kind of strange behavior elsewhere with less famous people who are in charge of companies.

People who don't regularly interact with them seem to act strange around them (which isn't that surprising if they're not seen that often and they're in charge), but the weirder thing to me is that all the supporting staff around the leader also acts strangely and seems to make it worse.

It reminds me of the story when Carmack had a demo and one of Jobs' support staff said they couldn't use it because "he doesn't like blood". When Jobs heard it was Carmack he said it was fine.

Something about it feels weird.

> When Jobs heard it was Carmack he said it was fine.

That seems less like the kind of "aura of reverence" you're talking about, and more like a respect for another creative person who makes carefully-considered choices (and perhaps a knowledge that most people in the audience for the demo know the artist and also respect them.)

Even if you don't agree with someone's tastes, if those tastes are a coherent part of a polished work, and you value the work itself, then you'll tend to let your aesthetic disagreement slide.

For a different concrete example: when the average movie director puts a weird sex thing in their movie, it sticks out in a way that makes you wonder whether they have a fetish and wanted to indulge it—and that breaks the verisimilitude of the work, lessening its impact. If, on the other hand, a director like David Lynch puts a weird sex thing in their movie, it's usually a critical element that fits the tone of the work, and doesn't break verisimilitude at all. It doesn't really matter whether David Lynch likes a given weird sex thing; it would still be a part of the work even if he didn't, because it belongs there.

Blood belongs in Carmack's games, in a way that means you'll tend to appreciate the bloodiness for its contribution to the overall tone of the game, even if you don't like blood.

Yeah that makes sense to me - my comment was more about how the support staff acted like "oh we can't do that - he wouldn't like that" when it turned out to be totally fine when interacting with him directly.

I'm not sure if that's a thing with Jobs and people being afraid of him, but I've seen similar stuff where people around the person act like they're delicate or everything requires special consideration when interacting with the leader.

The story is that Jobs was put off by Carmack's t-shirt (a smiley face with a bloody bullet hole in it). But they had a discussion, Carmack was critical of some of Apple's technical decisions, and Jobs listened and ultimately took Carmack's side. Jobs then yelled at one of his senior engineers.


I think that’s a second story - I remember reading about both.

Oh, you're right:

When I was preparing an early technology demo of Doom 3 for a keynote in Japan, I was having a hard time dealing with some of the managers involved that were insisting that I change the demo because “Steve doesn’t like blood.” I knew that Doom 3 wasn’t to his taste, but that wasn’t the point of doing the demo.

I brought it to Steve, with all the relevant people on the thread. He replied to everyone with: “I trust you John, do whatever you think is great.”


It would only annoy me if the author was being untruthful or disingenuous. Unless you have reason to suspect otherwise, I'll assume the author's personal recollection of his experiences as sincere.

Or to be more blunt, he knew Steve personally and you didn't. Just because you have never met someone who garnered that kind of reaction from you doesn't mean such people don't exist.

It's not a matter of the experience itself, it's a matter of how you make sense of it. I don't doubt that the author felt as though he had to act a certain way around Jobs, but the way that he writes about it sounds like he was dealing with a king or something. Re-read this part of the post:

"When demoing something to Steve, you had to pace yourself. If Steve said, “Stop,” you fucking stopped. Hands down and waited. And you didn’t jiggle the cursor while he was looking at the screen. Certain death.

If he wanted to drive the demo machine then, by God, you let him drive.

And if your software crashed, you didn’t make excuses. You just made damn sure that particular scenario didn’t happen again. Ever."

> Or to be more blunt, he knew Steve personally and you didn't. Just because you have never met someone who garnered that kind of reaction from you doesn't mean such people don't exist.

I claim that no one (that I've known for a long time) would ever make me feel this way because I make a point to "kill my idols" as they say. The author of this post didn't do that and that's what I find annoying.

Just because you have never met someone who garnered that kind of reaction from you doesn't mean such people don't exist.

That seems to be the case with a lot of super charismatic leaders. Somehow these people can instill an extreme level of loyalty in people they meet.

I don't want to compare Jobs to Hitler but when you read accounts from people who worked with Hitler they also had this sense of loyalty they couldn't overcome even while knowing that something was going wrong. Reagan may be another case.

Did you ever meet Jobs? Maybe he was just really really good. He comes off that way in most of his interviews/keynotes.

Good, laser-focused, demanding.

I think he was very good. But from whatever I have read he was also a big jerk and could be very cruel to people.

I haven't read anything that suggests that Steve was cruel or a jerk for the sake of it.

He told Wozniak that they had made $500 on a sale but in reality it was 5000 and he kept the rest. He refused to recognize his daughter for along time. He refused to give stock options to a lot of very early employees. Wozniak then made a up for it.

He was a jerk. Especially the story about his daughter is plain evil. At some point you have to take responsibility for your actions.

His daughter recently published a memoir portraying Steve and his wife as creepy in the extreme. There's a number of excerpts out there as well.


I read his biography, and in it he came off like a jerk. Not a cruel person. But yes, a jerk. I liked Steve Jobs a lot more before I read his bio.

The Isaacson bio was a joke. Made countless basic factual errors. Wouldn't trust it on anything.

Because the majority of the coverage about him has been praiseworthy, given his business success. Now that he's dead, criticism of him will come off as axe-grinding and bitter.

I think it's good show all facets of famous people, especially their dark sides. There is a tendency to glorify them and then think they are great people in all areas. Most times they aren't.

there are also cruel jerks who are incompetent idiots.

Is it really impossible that someone is so good that they have earned and deserve that kind of loyalty?

Absolutely. You see the same thing with Musk as well. Someone aptly compared the level of fervorous awe some air-quotes "visionary" leaders inspire, with evangelical mega-pastors.

2014 tag would be helpful

Talk about being brainwashed, this man sees Steve Jobs as a god.

Disappointed. I was expecting at least some screenshots.

I used to think Jobs' Reality Distortion Field only worked on tech bloggers who loved Apple's story and narrative so much, they went overboard to praise their products, in spite of tone-deaf stuff Jobs would say in public like "You're holding it wrong".

Turns out there were plenty of people right there at Apple who fell under that same RDF.

Did you really think the RDF as you say didn't apply to workers inside Apple? Almost always the biggest kool-aid drinkers for any company are the employees.

> Steve didn’t like the status bar and didn’t see the need for it. “Who looks at URLs when you hover your mouse over a link?” He thought it was just too geeky.

People who don't want to be phished? People who don't have absolute trust that a hyperlink posted by some random schmuck on the internet won't take them somewhere they shouldn't go?

This sort of background mentality of "Make the happy path look slick, and if the happy path doesn't work for you, good luck," has always turned me off from Apple stuff. But, of course, I'm not the target audience.

You can't rely on the hyperlink url, it's easily manipulable from JavaScript:


Yes because it is still true, that more geeky users that care about URLs and the status bar.

Sure, nobody wants to get phished. But I don't know any non-tech users that pay attention to the status bar as a way to avoid it.

The status bar has never been a anti-phishing tech, and I would argue that if anything it aids phishing[1]. The thing that prevents phishing is the location bar.

Also at that point in history phishing via fake urls was less of a problem - you could still trivially give the page a title (users only looked at the window title bar), and a copy of the verisign or thawte “secure page” graphic and you’d be set.

[1] pretty much from day 1 of js existing IE allowed js control of the content of the status bar, click handlers on links can change the window location directly, etc. Even today the link for urls is still frequently javascript:... so what adding a status bar does do is add another thing that tells the user what a link is, leading to a false sense of trust a importantly a sense of trust that can lead to not paying attention to the one true thing in the window: the location bar.

One thing I miss when using Safari instead of Chrome

The article literally states that they convinced him to have a toggle...

There’s a toggle for it in one of the menus, the status bar shows when you hover over a link.

view > show status bar

You're looking for ⌘+/.

> I don’t want those few and fleeting memories fractured and confused by other people’s interpretations.

So you want to maintain dogmatic ideological views without subjecting yourself to an uncomfortable re-examining of how rose-tinted your glasses might have been?

I was immediately turned off by this, and had a hard time finishing the post after reading that. Sometimes admitting that your idols are flawed human beings, but often trying their best nevertheless, can end in a better appreciation of the person.

He wanted to keep his first hand memories intact, and not be distracted by a dramatized or fictionalized account.

Why do you need the interpretation of people who weren't there, of events you have directly experienced yourself?

I had the exact opposite reaction. The fact that he cares so much about his own memories is under-appreciated these days. And he's not wrong—the stuff written about Steve is highly opinionated and often quite vividly written, exceedingly colored by how his blunt nature made that particular author react emotionally.

I think that’s a little harsh. The human mind is very good at mixing things up and connecting them together in unexpected ways. I think the author is being genuinely more protective of his own memories than he is of Steve or even his opinion of Steve.

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