iGardens, iCities, iArchitecture, iLandscapes, iPads and the Steve Jobs design theory

Buddha, getting help from an iPad, with an idea for the Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Festival

Buddha, with an iPad and an idea for the Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Festival

Steve Jobs is the most successful product designer of modern times, bar none. Nobody has built so many fabled products. Nor have they built (what was briefly) the world’s largest coroporation in such a short working life – or such powerful brand loyalty. So if cities, gardens, architectures and landscapes are ‘products’ then what can designers learn from the Steve Jobs approach to design? Here are some of the possibilities:

  • classify every design idea as ‘insanely great’ or ‘absolute shit’
  • listen to ideas from members of the design team and tell the proposers they are all ‘absolute shit’,
  • come in next day claiming the best of their ideas are yours, now seeing them as ‘insanely great’
  • earn the undying love of your staff by these means
  • ignore public consultation, and market research of all kinds, because ‘people do not know what they want until I have built it for them’
  • practice Buddhism, become a vegan and drink bucket-loads of carrot juice
  • adopt the purest forms of the Bauhaus and Zen Buddhist approaches to design
  • focus, like a laser beam, on the user experience
  • find the necessary technology to realise your dreams
  • keep on and on and on simplifying and perfecting every detail of your design
  • ‘Don’t compromise’
  • ‘People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint’

Yes, I have been reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and, yes, I think all designers can learn from Jobs’ example. But there is a big problem: I detest the idea of an iCity, an iGarden, an iScraper and an iLandscape – with the ‘i’ standing for ‘international’. I believe, fervently, that the environmental design professions should hold to the principles of context-sensitive design. They should, like our predecessors down the millennia, CONSULT THE GENIUS OF THE PLACE.
Steve was interested in gardens. The ‘stalk and head’ idea for the iMac G4 came from the sunflowers in his wife’s garden and, more to the point, he stated that ‘The most sublime thing I’ve ever seen are the gardens around Kyoto. I’m deeply moved by what that culture has produced, and it’s directly from zen Buddhism’. Since the Zen idea (禪) came from China and, before that, from India, perhaps Steve was not as strong on history as on product design.
But there is one more thing that we want to tell you about…East Asia is building iCities as if there is no tomorrow. So? “….Tomorrow will never come“.

See also 2012 Chelsea Fringe Flowers Gardens and Gardening Festival.

Buddha image courtesy Miheco.

6 thoughts on “iGardens, iCities, iArchitecture, iLandscapes, iPads and the Steve Jobs design theory

  1. Grant

    Hi Tom,

    Yet to read the fabled book.

    The comments read well about the Jobs that we all know, determined and with absolute vision. Sink or swim, total commitment.

    And yes I agree International design is dull, corporate and gives people the feeling of being dictated to by ‘The Man.’ So no iSilvertown.

    My real inspiration about the man is twofold.
    First, the understanding about the end user, if a person under 12 or over 60 can’t use it then its too complicated. If it takes more than three intuitive moves to do anything, its too complicated, if it needs a large instruction manual ,its too complicated. Who buys the product? The end user, so who are we primarily designing for….you got it. Ockham’s Razor.
    This is were companies like AutoCAD get it so wrong, built by engineers for engineers. Command structures than need a whole new language to even understand what the command is let alone find the dam thing. Apple employ artists as well as engineers. The problem should never be placed upon the end user, the problem should be solved by the engineer so that the end user will never encounter it. Thus the product will be used, loved and forgiven for when it does fail (and sold at a premium). And thats why sketch-up (as an alternative to AutoCAD) is so popular designed for school children upward.
    Second, visionary. Bill gates was and is not a visionary, he is a business man who used the licence model to sell software at a premium, not because the product is any good, but you are tied in when purchasing a PC. Jobs on the other hand was about Vision, why can’t we build a computer that the masses can use, and still look beautiful? Easy to use? Inter connecting with other products?

    As Landscape Architects we desperately need visionaries, to state our claim to the space that buildings reside in, we are the primary designer on site, after all Architects put their buildings in our space!
    We need to create a passion for the space that the people we serve will pick up on. Rather than a bland formulaic system that stinks of internationalism, an idea that has people and their needs and wellbeing at the heart of the design. Though the New Modernist (post post Modernism or maybe New Abstractionist) in me still has the desire in some cases to create the context, though this is as much about human scale, sitting, watching etc ie the South Bank

    One more thing… Planned Obsolescence the curse of the modern age, the fuel that keeps the wasteful consumer society going (and Apple are not entirely innocent). Had a huge rant on my blog to the point that until we really tackle the problem on mass consumerism we will run out of oil and landfill (which for Computers is Ghana, unbelievable what is going on) and there will be big trouble, not the feeble chancer’s of this Summer, I really think we are heading for some serious social unrest.


    And if you have time, (first section not sure about the relevance and a bit of biased science, also the last Venus project designs zoning and internationalism, so great idea just could be better executed) The relevance of the film for us is core. No point building on a foundation of sand.
    (unless i get an ipad, macbook air etc)


    Bed and Site estimate tomorrow,

    Cheers Tom

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Here is a chat between Steve and Bill. I agree about AutoCAD and am a ‘conscientious object’ to using it.
      Re visionaries, would you put Charles Jencks in this category and, if so, have you been following the Landscape Institute’s News Report on Charles Jencks work? My view is that the LI has (1) muddled the difference between News and Opinion, [Since the comment from Tim Waterman is under the News tab on the LI website, people will take his view to be the official view of the Landscape Institute] (2) not appreciated that, although Jencks has not done much for Sustainability or for the User Experience, he IS carrying forward the anceint objective of using natural materials to interpret and represent the relationship between Man and Nature. The ‘traditional’ landscape profession has shied away from this quest, sadly. Weak theories lead to weak designs. Always have, always will. [Since the comment from Tim Waterman is under the News tab on the LI website, I take his view to be the official view of the Landscape Institute]
      Thank you for the two Youtube links. Like the Average Man, I find myself watching more Youtube, more movies and ever-fewer made-for-TV programmes.

  2. Christine

    Apparently Buddha was not fond of ‘i’s, because unlike the classic philosophical statement of consciousness by Descrates “i think therefore i am”, Buddhism attempts to eliminate the focus on the self. Enlightment for Buddha was therefore different to the capitalist enlighted self-interest advocated by Adam Smith.

    So does the west design i-cities? Perhaps China in rediscovering its cultural heritage and Buddhist past might be able to show the way to designing cities with a Buddhist ethic?
    Perhaps they would be green?

  3. grant

    Excellent point Christine,

    The marketing men knew what they were up to when naming the ‘i’ series of products. Apple’s mail service now ends with yourname@me.com, (used to be yourname@mac.com which i still have thankfully) This is one stage to far on the road of the ‘individual’ , after all its all about me,me,me.

    I think there is still a strong element of the ‘International Style’ (the Shard in London) for its safety in conformity. Alas China has had a taste of the capitalist apple, so at present not much chance of the Buddhist ethic, maybe when they (we) finally realise that this apple is rotten and severe stomach ache causes a change of diet.

    Back to the Zeitgeist Movement idea..a bit too Utopian and centrally controlled, but 80% of Utopia would not be bad start.

  4. Adrian Clarke

    “* ignore public consultation, and market research of all kinds, because ‘people do not know what they want until I have built it for them’”

    This reminds me of Martha Schwartz being interviewed by Kevin McCloud about her views on public consultation for the New Fryston Green project:


    You can have the pleasure of watching it here:


    Skip to 13:40 onwards to see the bit I refer to although the whole programme is interesing.

    “It’s impossible to come out with anything of excellence if you have 100 people holding onto the same pencil”!


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