Steve Jobs: Start with the customer experience and work backwards

Gary Stockton dug up an old WWDC clip (embedded below) that shows Steve Jobs replying to a snarky question from the audience (remember when Steve used to take questions from the audience?) about OpenDoc and Java. Steve’s reply is worth watching.



  • richardmac

    I was expecting Jobs to cut the guy down with his lightning wit, but what he did instead was way, way better. Jobs clearly got the big picture, better than anyone else in the industry. And his answer shows just how much he’d grown since first starting Apple. But what kind of an asshat asks a question like that? Sheesh.

    • StruckPaper

      Who asks a question like that? A developer who had been working on OpenDoc.

      • Herding_sheep

        And thats reason to be a condescending prick?

  • StruckPaper

    Jobs never really answered the guy’s question, if you listen carefully. It was an artful performance of distraction and digression. It’s also not true that Apple doesn’t use technology as a starting point. One of many examples: IOS is based on Mac OS. This is not a criticism, just an observation.

    • Actually, jobs answered his question perfectly. The guy was a horse’s ass, and you could see Jobs reeling in his initial reaction. I wish I had that kind of control when dealing with such a jerk. That alone is a good lesson.

      But even as Jobs showed, he talked about the development of the laser printer in terms of having various technologies, and putting them together for the output that would blow people away. You use technologies like legos and try things out (with lots of mistakes along the way) but in the end, the point is the wow at the end. That’s Jobs’ point. If you don’t get the wow, you don’t tell the user they’re idiots and that they should accept your fancy whiz-bang technology. You go back to the drawing board and change the underlying technology until it wows the customer.

      That’s focusing on the user experience. You don’t mock up the printer output without a printer in development and then work your way back to find technologies to do what the printer does. You focus on the end result from the beginning.

      I was one disappointed by the dropping of OpenDoc, but in the end, the reason it didn’t’ make it is the same reason BeOS didn’t make it. They focused too much on the tech and not the end result.

    • Moeskido

      That guy was you, wasn’t it? 😉

    • mostlyfreeideas

      He most certainly answered the guy’s question. He explained that technology for technology’s sake is not the way Apple was going to create products. Technology is the tool to deliver the capability, but the capability is the product. iOS based on OS X was a contentious decision within Apple, and underscores that Apple actively considered multiple paths to get to a mobile OS. We’re fortunate that Scott Forstall won that argument.

  • Franko65

    Forgive me guys. For the life of me I can’t understand the guy’s exact question. On my ipad it comes through all mumbled no matter the volume I set it to. What is he asking regarding OpenDoc and Java? Thanks

    • Colin Mattson

      “I would like, for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say, Java, in any of its… incarnations, addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc. And when you’re finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years.”

      • Franko65

        Thanks, Colin. Much appreciated. Jobs, answer now makes way more sense.

  • Moeskido

    I imagine that questioner had a great future in posting comments on Youtube.

  • This is one of my favourite clips of Jobs (among many!) as it’s a masterclass in how to diffuse a potentially very negative situation (humour at the start, without resorting to snark), being confident enough to really think out a strong answer (how many people in that hall thought Jobs’s long silent pause at the start was him “reeling” as someone else put it?), to state your case with strong practical examples that are very hard to argue with (the story about the LaserWriter) and even self-effacing references to the original, and snarky, question (“some people will not know what they’re talking about…”). It really answered the question, didn’t back down at all, and yet did it without being negative or attacking the questioner in any way.