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David Kelley talks about Steve Jobs and 'design thinking' in '60 Minutes' interview

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david kelley 60 minutes
david kelley 60 minutes

IDEO founder David Kelley sat down with 60 Minutes this week to discuss the philosophy behind "design thinking" — an innovative approach that melds product design with human behavior. It's a principle that has underpinned Kelley's entire career, and one that left an indelible mark on Apple CEO Steve Jobs, one of Kelley's closest friends and collaborators. Kelley, in fact, was part of a team that helped design Apple's very first computer mouse, though his career has ranged well beyond the realm of technology, pioneering new designs in airport lavatory signs and even toothpaste tubes.

"Eventually he pulls the 'I'm Steve Jobs' card."

The central tenet of design thinking, according to Kelley, isn't one of aesthetic or utility, but of empathy and human observation. "Be empathetic," Kelley explained to CBS' Charlie Rose. "Try to understand what people really value." Doing that, he says, will lay the foundation for more intuitive designs.

Kelley spent the majority of the interview discussing his relationship with Jobs, whom he first met after studying product design at Stanford. Their friendship spanned some 30 years, and played a pivotal role in both mens' lives. It was Jobs, after all, who introduced Kelley to his wife.

Jobs also provided Kelley with invaluable consolation and advice after the designer was diagnosed with seemingly terminable throat cancer, urging him to vigorously pursue Western treatment, and to focus on spending time with his family. It was against this grim backdrop, in 2007, that Jobs shared a priceless moment of levity with his friend, as Kelley recounted to CBS.

With Kelley home and undergoing treatment, Jobs surprised him with a brand new iPhone, and personally called AT&T to help him set it up. This proved more difficult than expected, however, leading to humorous frustration. "Eventually he pulls the 'I'm Steve Jobs' card," Kelley recalled with a laugh. "And I'm sure the guy on the other end said, 'Yeah buddy, and I'm Napoleon.'"

It's moment like these, Kelley says, that are all too often overlooked in Jobs retrospectives, which tend to focus on Jobs' exacting and combative professional persona. "I think the misconception is that he was malicious, that he was trying to be mean to people," Kelley said. "He wasn't. He was just trying to get things done."