The People Don’t Know What They Want: Art & Design

Apple, especially late co-founder Steve Jobs, has often been criticized and mocked for approaching products with the mindset that they know what is best for consumers and what consumers really want. Whether it was creating a phone without buttons, removing the headphone jack,  or possibly removing the charging port altogether, apple has pushed consumers in a way that says, “we know what you really want, and trust us, we are right in the end.” Instead of maintaining clunky technology or being afraid to push forward, Apple pushes the consumer by dropping old tech in favor of new advances, even if people are not quite ready to let the old tech go. Each time Apple does this it creates controversy and anger in the consumer base, but soon enough everyone adapts and moves forward with Apple, including their competition.
It appears that Apple may be correct. The trite line in the world of business is that the customer is always right. Apple certainly doesn’t buy into this mindset, and the world of technology is not the only space where people don’t know what they want. Michael Tisserand demonstrates this by quoting George Herriman in his biography of Herriman, Krazy. Herriman was interviewed in the late 1920’s by a journalist named Mary Landenberger. The quote from Herriman that Tisserand includes in his book is from Landenberger and reads, “The people don’t know what they want. And if they get an entirely new taste of something that’s good, they’ll want it until they find something better. But we’ve got to give them the initial taste before they start clamoring for more.”
Herriman shows that the Apple mindset was mirrored by cartoonists in the 1920’s. Art styles and fads change and are influenced by many social and cultural factors. People don’t always understand what they like and why, and according to Herriman, it is in some ways up to the artist to show people what they want. I’m sure that Jobs would have thought of himself as an artists, and the way he designed and styled his company’s products certainly fits with the mindset that Herriman, a cartoon artist, expressed.
In television shows and popular media and culture today we still see echoes from creatives of the Herriman and Jobs point of view. The idea that people don’t know what they want is easy to mock and ridicule, but it often turns out to be correct. Companies, artists, and movie studios who buck trends and give people something they didn’t know that they wanted can change the course of events and the form and function of art.

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