Thomas Watson Jr, Steve Jobs and me—On Good Design
09 August 2015

Thomas Watson Jr, Steve Jobs and me—On Good Design

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“Good design is good for business.”

In 1985 while I was designing a series of postcards to promote Karen Spencer Design, Inc. I came up with the tagline — “Good design is good for business”. It wasn’t until quite a few years later that I realized that the phrase needed to be attributed to Thomas Watson, Jr. the former chief executive of IBM who is acknowledged as saying “good design is good business” in a 1973 address at the University of Pennsylvania. (Watson’s phrasing is slightly different from mine).

The story goes that as Mr. Watson took a walk down 5th Avenue in the 1950s, he came upon a display of brightly colored Olivetti typewriters set out on the sidewalk for people to try. The Olivetti shop was modern and brightly lit. In contrast, IBM’s typewriters were drab and boxy in those days, and their offices were decorated in the somber style his father and predecessor Thomas Watson, Sr.

Then and there Tom Watson, Jr. realized that he could set IBM apart from the competition through good design.

In 1956 he hired Eliot Noyes, an architect and the former curator of industrial design at the Museum of Modern Art to oversee IBM’s first corporate design program. Noyes brought in a series of incredible designers to work with the IBM brand and identity, including Paul Rand, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Isamu Noguchi. Paul Rand designed the IBM logo in 1956, modified it in 1960 and modified to the striped version in 1972, and he is a fellow Pratt alumni and could easily be the subject of an entire blog.

But this is not a blog about IBM. It’s a blog about setting any business apart from the completion through good design and that’s why good design is good for business.

Designers believe they are problem solvers.

What is your definition of design? Or better yet of good design?

One could describe design as a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.—Charles Eames

Eliot Noyes said “In a sense, a corporation should be like a good painting; everything visible should contribute to the correct total statement; nothing visible should detract”

Steve Jobs and a Calligraphy Class

And then, came Steve Jobs who created Apple and made a fortune building beautifully designed and beautifully functioning products. The story goes that Steve Jobs was significantly influenced by a calligraphy class he took after he quit Reed College. He was so inspired by the beauty of the letterforms, that he built the Mac as the first computer with multiple and proportionally spaced fonts.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.—Steve Jobs

So what is the criterion that defines good design?

• Good design solves a problem

• Good design honors function before form

• Good design often hones down a concept to its most iconic minimum

• Good design is easily understandable

• Good design is memorable

• Good design may not be pretty but it is often beautiful

• Good design makes the point it has been asked to make

• Good design is enduring

Another of my favorite quotes—

Good design goes to heaven; bad design goes everywhere. —Mieke Gerritzen

In our culture of information overload, it’s harder than ever to separate your business from the pack.

Tell your brand story with good design.

“Good design is good for business.”

Enduring Logo Design Above

IBM Logo—Paul Rand (1972 iteration)

Apple Logo—Rob Janoff (1998—2010 iteration)

I Love New York Logo—Milton Glaser (1977)

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