Recent Wired interview with a pessimistic Steve.

Rohit Khare (
Fri, 3 Jan 1997 10:36:36 -0500

My, my, some people do get grumpy in old age...

RK's comments delimited by ===s.

February 1996

by Gary Wolf

Steve Jobs has been right twice. The first time we got Apple. The second
time we got NeXT. The Macintosh ruled. NeXT tanked. Still, Jobs was right
both times. Although NeXT failed to sell its elegant and infamously buggy
black box, Job's fundamental insight-- that personal computers were
destined to be connected to each other and live on networks-- was just as
accurate as his earlier prophecy that computers were destined to become
personal appliances.

Actually, steve was famously WRONG on that point. He fought against
AppleTalk and LANs, seeing the Mac as a tool for lone cowboys on the range.
At apple he saw network wiring as the reins of idiotic management. Even at
Next with the "InterPersonal Computing" tack, he

Now Jobs is making a third guess about the future. His passion these days
is for objects. Objects are software modules that can be combined into new
applications (see "Get Ready for Web Objects"), much as pieces of Lego are
built into toy houses. Jobs argues that objects are the key to keeping up
with the exponential growth of the World Wide Web. And it's commerce, he
says, that will fuel the next phase of the Web explosion.

On a foggy morning last year, I drove down to the headquarters of NeXT
Computer, Inc. in Redwood City, California, to meet with Jobs. The building
was quiet and immaculate, with that atmosphere of low-slung corporate
luxury typical of successful Silicon Valley companies heading into their
second decade. Ironically, NeXT is not a success. After burning through
hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, the company abandoned the
production of computers, focusing instead on the sales and development of
its NEXTSTEP operating system and on extensions into object-oriented

Here at NeXT, Jobs was not interested in talking about Pixar Animation
Studios, the maker of the world's first fully computer-generated feature
movie, Toy Story (see "The Toy Story Story," Wired 3.12, page 146). Jobs
founded Pixar in 1986 when he bought out a computer division of Lucasfilm
Ltd. for US$60 million, and with Pixar's upcoming public stock offering, he
was poised to become a billionaire in a single day. To Jobs, Pixar was a
done deal, Toy Story was in the can, and he was prepared to let his IPO do
the talking.

A different type of executive might have talked only about Pixar. But even
when given the chance to crow, Jobs kept talking about WebObjects and his
ambitions for NeXT. He was fixed on the next big thing. And that was fine.
After all, people often become more interesting when they've failed at
something, and with his fall from Apple, the struggling at NeXT, and the
triumph of Pixar, Jobs is now moving into his second circuit around the
wheel of fortune. What has he learned?

As we began our interview, Jobs was testy. He told me that he didn't care
anymore about revolutionizing society, and that he didn't believe changes
in technology could solve the most important problems we face. The future
of the Web was in the hands of big corporations, he said. This was where
the money was going to be made. This was where NeXT was pitching its

I couldn't help but wonder how this incarnation of Steve Jobs jibed with
the old revolutionary of Apple and the early years of NeXT. As the
conversation deepened, some of the connections slowly grew clear. Jobs's
testiness faded, and he allowed himself to speculate on the democratizing
effects of the Web and his hope for defending it against the threat of
Microsoft. Jobs's obsession with his old rival took the form of an unusual
proposal for all parties to voluntarily keep the Web simple and avoid
increasingly popular client-side enhancement like HotJava.

In the old days, Jobs was an evangelist for American education and worked
hard to get computers in schools. The partnerships between Apple and
educators was key in establishing a market for the Macintosh, while the
NeXT machine was originally designed to serve primarily as a tool for
students and teachers. Now, Jobs flatly concludes, technology can't help
fix the problems with our education system. His new solutions are decidedly

The new Steve Jobs scoffs at the naive idealism of Web partisans who
believe the new medium will turn every person into a publisher. The heart
of the Web, he said, will be commerce, and the heart of commerce will be
corporate America serving custom products to individual consumers.

The implicit message of the Macintosh, as unforgettably expressed in the
great "1984" commercial, was Power to the People. Jobs's vision of
WebObjects serves as a different mandate: Give the People What They Want.

Wired: The Macintosh computer set the tone for 10 years. Do you think the
Web may be setting the tone today?

Jobs: The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually
ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That's over. Apple
lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it's going to be in
the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this

It's like when IBM drove a lot of innovation out of the computer industry
before the microprocessor came along. Eventually, Microsoft will crumble
because of complacency, and maybe some new things will grow. But until that
happens, until there's some fundamental technology shift, it's just over.

The most exciting things happening today are objects and the Web. The Web
is exciting for two reasons. One, it's ubiquitous. There will be Web dial
tone everywhere. And anything that's ubiquitous gets interesting. Two, I
don't think Microsoft will figure out a way to own it. There's going to be
a lot more innovation, and that will create a place where there isn't this
dark cloud of dominance.

Why do you think the Web has sprouted so fast?

One of the major reasons for the Web's proliferation so far is its
simplicity. A lot of people want to make the Web more complicated. They
want to put processing on the clients, they want to do this and that. I
hope not too much of that happens too quickly.

It's much like the old mainframe computing environment, where a Web browser
is like a dumb terminal and the Web server is like the mainframe where all
the processing's done. This simple model has had a profound impact by
starting to become ubiquitous.

And Objects?

When I went to Xerox PARC in 1979, I saw a very rudimentary graphical user
interface. It wasn't complete. It wasn't quite right. But within 10
minutes, it was obvious that every computer in the world would work this
way someday. And you could argue about the number of years it would take,
and you could argue about who would be the winners and the losers, but I
don't think you could argue that every computer in the world wouldn't
eventually work this way.

Objects are the same way. Once you understand objects, it's clear that all
software will eventually be written using objects. Again, you can argue
about how many years it will take, and who the winners and losers will be
during this transition, but you can't argue about the inevitability of this

Objects are just going to be the way all software is going to be written in
five years - pick a time. It's so compelling. It's so obvious. It's so much
better than it's just going to happen.

How will objects affect the Web?

Think of all the people now bringing goods and services directly to
customers through the Web. Every company that wants to vend its goods and
services on the Web is going to have a great deal of custom-application
software to write. You're not just going to be able to buy something off
the shelf. You're going to have to hook the Web into your order-management
systems, your collection systems. It's going to be an incredible amount of

The number of applications that need to be written is growing
exponentially. Unless we can find a way to write them in a tenth of the
time, we're toast.

The end result of objects - this repackaging of software - is that we can
develop applications with only about 10 to 20 percent of the software
development required any other way.

We see how people won the battle of the desktop by owning the operating
system. How does one win on the Web?

There are three parts to the Web. One is the client, the second is the
pipes, and the third is the servers.

One the client side, there's the browser software. In the sense of making
money, it doesn't look like anybody is going to win on the browser software
side, because it's going to be free. And then there's the typical hardware.
It's possible that some people could come out with some very interesting
Web terminals and sell some hardware.

On the pipe side, the RBOCs are going to win. In the coming months, you're
going to see a lot of them offering a service for under $25 a month. You
get ISDN strung into your den, you get a little box to hook it into your
PC, and you get an Internet account, which is going to very popular. The
RBOCs are going to be the companies that get you on the Web. They have a
vested interest in doing that. They'd like to screw the cable companies;
they'd like to preserve the customers. This is all happening right now. You
don't see it. It's under the ground like the roots of a tree, but it's
going to spring up and you're going to see this big tree within a few

As for the server market, companies like Sun are doing a nice business
selling servers. But with Web server software, no one company has more than
a single-digit market share yet. Netscape sells hardly any, because you can
get free public-domain software and it's very good. Some people say that
it's even better than what you can buy.

Our company decided that people are going to layer stuff about this very
simple Web server to help others build Web applications, which is where the
bottleneck is right now. There's some real opportunity there for making
major contributions and a lot of money. That's what WebObjects is all

What other opportunities are out there?

Who do you think will be the main beneficiary of the Web? Who wins the

People who have something--

To sell!

To share.

To sell!

You mean publishing?

It's more than publishing. It's commerce. People are going to stop going to
a lot of stores. And they're going to buy stuff over the Web!

What about the Web as the great democratizer?

If you look at things I've done in my life, they have an element of
democratizing. The Web is an incredible democratizer. A small company can
look as large as a big company and will be as accessible as a big company
on the Web. Big companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars building
their distribution channels. And the Web is going to completely neutralize
that advantage.

What will the economic landscape look like after that democratic process
has gone through another cycle?

The Web is not going to change the world, certainly not in the next 10
years. It's going to augment the world. And once you're in this
Web-augmented space, you're going to see that democratization takes place.

The Web's not going to capture everybody. If the Web got up to 10 percent
of the goods and services in this country, it would be phenomenal. I think
it could go much higher than that. Eventually, it will become a huge part
of the economy.


What's the biggest surprise this technology will deliver?

The problem is I'm older now, I'm 40 years old, and this stuff doesn't
change the world. It really doesn't.

That's going to break people's hearts.

I'm sorry, it's true. Having children really changes your view on these
things. We're born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It's been
happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much - if at all.

These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might
not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get
in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information,
the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life.
I'm not downplaying that. But it's a disservice to constantly put things in
this radical new light - that it's going to change everything. Things don't
have to change the world to be important.

The Web is going to be very important. Is it going to be a life-changing
event for millions of people? No. I mean, maybe. But it's not an assured
Yes at this point. And it'll probably creep up on people.

It's certainly not going to be like the first time somebody saw a
television. It's certainly not going to be as profound as when someone in
Nebraska first heard a radio broadcast. It's not going to be that profound.

Then how will the Web impact our society?

We live in an information economy, but I don't believe we live in an
information society. People are thinking less than they used to. It's
primarily because of television. People are reading less and they're
certainly thinking less. So, I don't see most people using the Web to get
more information. We're already in information overload. No matter how much
information the Web can dish out, most people get far more information than
they can assimilate anyway.

The problem is television?

When you're young, you look at television and think, "There's a
conspiracy." The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get
a little older, you realize that's not true. The networks are in business
to give people exactly what they want. That's a far more depressing
thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have
a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what
they want. It's the truth.

So Steve Jobs is telling us things are going to continue to get worse.

They are getting worse! Everybody knows that they're getting worse! Don't
you think they're getting worse?

I do, but I was hoping I could come here and find out how they were going
to get better. Do you really think the world is getting worse? Or do you
have a feeling that the things you're involved with are making the world

No. The world's getting worse. It has gotten worse for the last 15 years or
so. Definitely. For two reasons. One a global scale, the population is
increasing dramatically and all our structures, from ecological to economic
to political, just cannot deal with it. And in this country, we seem to
have fewer smart people in government, and people don't seem to be paying
as much attention to the important decisions we have to make.

But you seem very optimistic about the potential for change.

I'm an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable,
and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of
individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat
more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned
when I see what's happening in our country, which is in many ways the
luckiest place in the world. We don't seem to be excited about making our
country a better place for our kids.

The people who built Silicon Valley were engineers. They learned business,
they learned a lot of different things, but they had a real belief that
humans, if they worked hard with other creative, smart people, could solve
most of humankind's problem. I believe that very much.

I believe that people with an engineering point of view as a basic
foundation are in a pretty good position to jump in and solve some of these
problems. But in society, it's not working. Those people are not attracted
to the political process. And why would somebody be?

Could technology help by improving education?

I used to think that technology could help education. I've probably
spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody
else on the planet. But I've had to come to the inevitable conclusion that
the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What's wrong with
education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will
make a dent.

It's political problem. The problems are sociopolitical. The problems are
unions. You plot the growth of the NEA (National Education Association) and
the dropping of SAT scores, and they're inversely proportional. The
problems are unions in the schools. The problem is bureaucracy. I'm one of
these people who believes the best thing we could ever do is go to the full
voucher system.

I have a 17-year-old daughter who went to a private school for a few years
before high school. This private school is the best school I've seen in my
life. It was judged one of the 100 best schools in America. It was
phenomenal. The tuition was $5,500 a year, which is a lot of money for most
parents. But the teachers were paid less than public school teachers - so
it's not about money at the teacher level. I asked the state treasurer that
year what California pays on average to send kids to school, and I believe
it was $4,400. While there are not many parents who could come up with
$5,500 a year, there are many who could come up with $1,000 a year.

If we gave vouchers to parents for $4,400 a year, schools would be starting
right and left. People would get out of college and say, "Let's start a
school." You could have a track at Stanford within the MBA program on how
to be the business person of a school. And that MBA would get together with
somebody else, and they'd start schools. And you'd have these young,
idealistic people starting schools, working for pennies.

They'd do it because they'd be able to set the curriculum. When you have
kids you think, What exactly do I want them to learn? Most of the stuff
they study in school is completely useless. But some incredibly valuable
things you don't learn until you're older - yet you could learn them when
you're younger. And you start to think, "What would I do if I set a
curriculum for a school?"

God, how exciting that could be! But you can't do it today. You'd be crazy
to work in a school today. You don't get to do what you want. You don't get
to pick your books, your curriculum. You get to teach one narrow
specialization. Who would ever want to do that?

These are the solutions to our problems in education. Unfortunately,
technology isn't it. You're not going to solve the problems by putting all
knowledge onto CD-ROMs. We can put a Web site in every school - none of
this is bad. It's bad only if it lulls us into thinking we're doing
something to solve the problem with education.

Lincoln did not have a Web site at the log cabin where his parents
home-schooled him, and he turned out pretty interesting. Historical
precedent shows that we can turn out amazing human beings without
technology. Precedent also shows that we can turn out very uninteresting
human beings with technology.

It's not as simple as you think when you're in your 20s - that technology's
going to change the world. In some ways it will, in some ways it won't.


If you go back five years, the Web was hardly on anybody's horizon. Maybe
even three years ago, it wasn't really being taken seriously by many
people. Why is the sudden rise of the Web so surprising?

Isn't it great? That's exactly what's not happening in the desktop market.

Why was everyone, including NeXT, surprised, though?

It's a little like the telephone. When you have two telephones, it's not
very interesting. And three is not very interesting. And four. And, well, a
hundred telephones perhaps becomes slightly interesting. A thousand, a
little more. It's probably not until you get around ten thousand telephones
that it really gets interesting.

Many people didn't foresee, couldn't imagine, what it would be like to have
a million, or a few tens of thousands of Web sites. And when there were
only a hundred, or two hundred, or when they were all university ones, it
just wasn't very interesting. Eventually, it went beyond that critical mass
and got very interesting very fast. You could see it. And people said,
"Wow! This is incredible."

The Web reminds me of the early days of the PC industry. No one really
knows anything. There are no experts. All the experts have been wrong.
There's a tremendous open possibility to the whole thing. And it hasn't
been confined, or defined, in too many ways. That's wonderful.

There's a phrase in Buddhism, "Beginner's mind." It's wonderful to have a
beginner's mind.

Earlier, you seemed to say there's a natural affinity between the Web and
objects. That these two things are going to come together and make
something very new, right?

Let's try this another way. What might you want to do on a Web server? We
can think of four things:

One is simple publishing. That's what 99 percent of the people do today. If
that's all you want to do, you can get one of a hundred free Web-server
software packages off the Net and just use it. No problem. It works fine.
Security's not a giant issue because you're not doing credit card
transactions over the Web.

The next thing you can do is complex publishing. People are starting to do
complex publishing on the Web - very simple forms of it. This will
absolutely explode in the next 12 to 18 months. It's the next big phase of
the Web. Have you seen the Federal Express Web site where you can track a
package? It took Federal Express about four months to write that program -
and it's extremely simple. Four months. It would be nice to do that in four
days, or two days, or one day.

The third thing is commerce, which is even harder than complex publishing
because you have to tie the Web into your order-management system, your
collection system, things like that. I think we're still two years away.
But that's also going to be huge.

Last is internal Web sites. Rather than the Internet, it's Intranet. Rather
than write several different versions of an application for internal
consumption - one for Mac, one for PC, one for Unix - people can write a
single version and have a cross-platform product. Everybody uses the Web.
We're going to see companies have dozens - if not hundreds - of Web servers
internally as a means to communicate with themselves.

Three of those four functions of the Web require custom applications. And
that's what we do really well with objects. Our new product, WebObjects,
allows you to write Web applications 10 times faster.

How does the Web affect the economy?

We live in an information economy. The problem is that information's
usually impossible to get, at least in the right place, at the right time.

The reason Federal Express won over its competitors was its
package-tracking system. For the company to bring that package-tracking
system onto the Web is phenomenal. I use it all the time to track my
packages. It's incredibly great. Incredibly reassuring. And getting that
information out of most companies is usually impossible.

But it's also incredibly difficult to give information. Take auto
dealerships. So much money is spent on inventory - billions and billions of
dollars. Inventory is not a good thing. Inventory ties up a ton of cash,
it's open to vandalism, it becomes obsolete. It takes a tremendous amount
of time to manage. And, usually, the car you want, in the color you want,
isn't there anyway, so they've got to horse-trade around. Wouldn't it be
nice to get rid of all that inventory? Just have one white care to drive
and maybe a laserdisc so you can look at the other colors. Then you order
your car and you get it in a week.

Today a dealer says, "We can't get your car in a week. It takes three
months." And you say, "Now wait a minute, I want to order a pink Cadillac
with purple leather seats. Why can't I get that in a week?" And he says,
"We gotta make it." And you say, "Are you making Cadillacs today?" Why
can't you paint a pink one today?" And he says, "We didn't know you wanted
a pink one." And you say, "OK. I'm going to tell you I want a pink one
now." And he says, "We don't have any pink paint. Our paint supplier needs
some lead time on that paint." And you say, "Is your paint supplier making
paint today? And he says, "Yeah, but by the time we tell him, it takes two
weeks." And you say, "What about leather seats? and he says, "God, purple
leather. It'll take three months to get that."

You follow this back, and you find that it's not how long it takes to make
stuff; it's how long it takes the information to flow through the system.
And yet electronics move at the speed of light - or very close to it.

So pushing information into the system is sometimes immensely frustrating,
and the Web is going to be just as much of a breakthrough in terms of
pushing information in as getting information out.

Your view about the Web is an alternative to the commonly held one that
it's going to be the renaissance of personal publishing. The person who
can't get published through the broadcast media will get a chance to say

There's nothing wrong with that. The Web is great because that person can't
foist anything on you - you have to go get it. They can make themselves
available, but if nobody wants to look at their site, that's fine. To be
honest, most people who have something to say get published now.

But when we ask how a person's life is changed by these technologies,
pushing information to customize products makes marginal differences. You
go to the store and there's a lot of different kinds of toilet paper - some
have tulips embossed on them and some don't. You're standing there making a
choice, and you want the one with the embossed tulips.

I like the one without the tulips.

I do, too - and unscented. But that customization is relevant to you for a
second but in no other way. For the average person, the possibility to
participate as a publisher or a producer has a higher value for them.

I don't necessarily agree. The best way to think of the Web is as a
direct-to-customer distribution channel, whether it's for information or
commerce. It bypasses all middlemen. And, it turns out, there are a lot of
middlepersons in this society. And they generally tend to slow things down,
muck things up, and make things more expensive. The elimination of them is
going to be profound.

Do you think large institutions are going to be the center of the economy,
basically driving it as they are now? Some people say the big company is
going to fragment.

I don't see that. There's nothing wrong with big companies. A lot of people
think big business in America is a bad thing. I think it's a really good
thing. Most people in business are ethical, hard-working, good people. And
it's a meritocracy. There are very visible examples in business of where it
breaks down but it's probably a lot less than in most other areas of

You don't think that structural economic changes will tend to shrink the
size of these large companies?

Large companies not paying attention to change will get hurt. The Web will
be one more area of significant change and those who don't pay attention
will get hurt, while those who see it early enough will get rewarded.

The Web is just going to be one more of those major change factors that
businesses face every decade. This decade, in the next 10 years, it's going
to be the Web. It's going to be one of them.

But doesn't the Web foster more freedom for individuals?

It is a leveling of hierarchy. An individual can put up a Web site that, if
they put enough work into it, looks just as impressive as the largest
company in the world.

I love things that level hierarchy, that bring the individual up to the
same level as an organization, or a small group up to the same level as a
large group with much greater resources. And the Web and the Internet do
that. It's a very profound thing, and a very good thing.

Yet the majority of customers for WebObjects seem to be corporations.

That's correct. And big ones.

Does that cause you any kind of conflict?

Sure. And that's why we're going to be giving our WebObjects software away
to individuals and educational institutions for noncommercial use. We've
made the decision to give it away.


What do you think about Hot Java and the like?

It's going to take a long time for that stuff to become a standard on the
Web. And that may shoot the Web in the foot. If the Web becomes too
complicated, too fraught with security concerns, then its proliferation may
stop - or slow down. The most important thing for the Web is to stay ahead
of Microsoft. Not to become more complicated.

That's very interesting. Java pushes the technology toward the client side.
Do you find that wrong?

In my opinion? In the next two years? It's dead wrong. Because it may slow
down getting to ubiquity. And anything that slows down the Web reaching
ubiquity allows Microsoft to catch up. If Microsoft catches up, it's far
worse than the fact that the Web can't do word processing. Those things can
be fixed later.

There's a window now that will close. If you don't cross the finish line in
the next two years, Microsoft will own the Web. And that will be the end of

Let's assume for a second that many people share an interest in a standard
Web that provides a strong alternative to Microsoft. However, when it comes
to every individual Web company or Web publisher, they have an interest in
making sure that their Web site stays on the edge. I know we do at
HotWired. And so we have to get people into Hot Java - we have to stay out
there - which doesn't bode well for retaining simplicity. We're going to be
part of that force pushing people toward a more complicated Web, because we
have no choice.

The way you make it more complex is not by throwing stuff on the client
side but by providing value, like Federal Express does, by becoming more
complex on the server side.

I'm just very concerned that if the clients become smart, the first thing
this will do is fracture the Web. There won't be just one standard.
There'll be several; they're all going to fight; each one has its problems.
So it's going to be very easy to say why just one shouldn't be the
standard. And a fractured Web community will play right into Microsoft's

The client-server relationship should be frozen for the next two years, and
we shouldn't take it much further. We should just let it be.

By collective agreement?

Yeah. By collective agreement. Sure. Go for ubiquity. If Windows can become
ubiquitous, so can the existing Web.

How did Windows become ubiquitous?

A force of self-interest throughout the industry made Windows ubiquitous.
Compaq and all these different vendors made Windows ubiquitous. They didn't
know how to spell software, but they wanted to put something on their
machines. That made Windows ubiquitous.

So it just kind of happened.

No, it was sort of an algorithm that got set in motion when everyone's
self-interest aligned toward making this happen. And I claim that the same
sort of self-interest algorithm is present on the Web. Everyone has a
self-interest aligned toward making this happen. And I claim that the same
sort of self-interest algorithm is present on the Web. Everyone has a
self-interest in making this Web ubiquitous and not having anyone own it -
especially not Microsoft.

Is the desktop metaphor going to continue to dominate how we relate to
computers, or is there some other metaphor you like better?

To have a new metaphor, you really need new issues. The desktop metaphor
was invented because one, you were a stand-alone device, and two, you had
to manage your own storage. That's a very big thing in a desktop world. And
that may go away. You may not have to manage your own storage. You may not
store much before too long.

I don't store anything anymore, really. I use a lot of e-mail and the Web,
and with both of those I don't have to ever manage storage. As a matter of
fact, my favorite way of reminding myself to do something is to send myself
e-mail. That's my storage.

The minute that I don't have to manage my own storage, and the minute I
live primarily in a connected versus a standalone world, there are new
options for metaphors.


You have a reputation for making well-designed products. Why aren't more
products made with the aesthetics of great design?

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of
course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. The design of the Mac
wasn't what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was
how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You
have to really grok what it's all about. It takes a passionate commitment
to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly
swallow it. Most people don't take the time to do that.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they
did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it,
they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's
because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize
new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had
more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than
other people.

Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry
haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to
connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad
perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human
experience, the better design we will have.

Is there anything well designed today that inspires you?

Design is not limited to fancy new gadgets. Our family just bought a new
washing machine and dryer. We didn't have a very good one so we spent a
little time looking at them. It turns out that the Americans make washers
and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better - but they take
twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a
quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on
them. Most important, they don't trash your clothes. They use a lot less
soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and
they last a lot longer.

We spent some time in our family talking about what's the trade-off we want
to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values
of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour
versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling
really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the
water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the
dinner table. We'd get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the
talk was about design.

We ended up opting for these Miele appliances, made in Germany. They're too
expensive, but that's just because nobody buys them in this country. They
are really wonderfully made and one of the few products we've bought over
the last few years that we're all really happy about. These guys really
thought the process through. They did such a great job designing these
washers and dryers. I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any
piece of high tech in years.

Gary Wolf ( is the executive editor of