Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve & Me

I cannot count myself among those lucky enough to have worked with, interviewed, met, or even to have seen Steve Jobs. The chart, above, is the closest I ever got to the man who changed forever how we think of design.

1n 2002, Fortune magazine’s Andy Serwer wrote a piece about Dell and it’s mounting domination of the PC market. To accompany the story was to be a fairly standard chart showing shifts in market share of the top ten U.S. PC makers.

I plotted the data in various chart formats. The fever chart was very dramatic. It showed Dell zooming from sixth position in 1994 to the number one position five years later. But the bar chart was impressive too. That showed how enormous a chunk of the market Dell owned, selling a quarter of all PCs, up from less than 5% in 1994. The problem was that the fever chart showed movement, but didn’t communicate the size of Dell’s share, while the bar chart showed size, but didn’t visualize Dell outpacing the competition.

Instead of choosing one, or showing both, I decided to try combining the fever and the bar chart. It might not seem like a big deal now, but at the time, what has become know as the “ribbon chart,” was a huge hit. I got lots of letters asking me what software I used, and the magazine got letters to the editor for once about a chart, which didn’t have to do with an error or other misrepresentation.

A few weeks later, I got a voicemail from our writer on the West Coast who covered the technology industry. Steve Jobs wanted to use the chart in a presentation and could I provide a PDF?

A couple of things struck me. One was how validating it is to have God (Gawker's claim not withstanding) ask to use your chart in a presentation. The other was that the CEO interested in using the graphic was certainly not using it to self-congratulate. By late 2001, Apple’s market share had slipped from third to sixth place—exactly where Dell had been when our chart began in 1994, and with the same 4.2% share. I guess the chart made Jobs see red (the color used was coincidental), and an opportunity to somehow “motivate” his audience.

And motivate, he did …

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