Helping science succeed
Helping science succeed

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Science communication isn’t a new field. It just isn’t an established field, yet. Great bits and pieces from a variety of disciplines are needed to create great science communication, and these disciplines don’t always talk to each other, or at least they don’t always agree. Because of this, on complex technical projects it’s rare to find  examples of science communication done right.

Consider the various bits and pieces. Writers have long understood that at its finest, great writing will make a lasting impact on the world around us. Artists have understood their field and its impact for even longer. Architects believe in the transformative power of great design, and turning points in history are marked by great moments in industrial design—from Guttenberg’s printing presses to Henry Ford’s automobiles. Marketers throughout history have understood that presentation is also key—that packaged and sold correctly, great ideas will affect our understanding, perceptions and expectations—even our history.

Scientists and engineers, on the other hand, are necessarily product-focused—often to the extent, though, that they can be tempted to view the marketplace as a meritocracy where the world can and should beat a path to the door of companies who invent a better mousetrap. And business leaders, with an eye on the bottom line, often discount the need to spend time and money fine-tuning all the elements of look and function that might be involved because stakeholders demand results, and because making this investment requires a very firm belief in the need and an almost intuitive understanding that all of these elements are critical to great success.

Truly effective science communication requires pulling all of this and more under one roof—effective writing, art, design, marketing and more. Done correctly, the power of effective science communication can be transformative.

Steve Jobs did it right. No figure in modern history made a more profound impact on the role that information technology plays in our lives today than Jobs—not because he invented the programs that run our lives, but because he profoundly influenced the revolution behind our thinking about how information technology can be an indispensable part of our lives. Desktop publishing, movie editing, music publishing, portable devices, industrial design—-these industries and many more are fundamentally different today than they were even 10 years ago, their trajectory is for continued rapid evolution, and their impact on the world around us continues to grow.

What Jobs accomplished during his lifetime was science communication at its finest—taking complex and clunky concepts with huge potential to benefit mankind, and then distilling products and services from these concepts that eliminate complexity, invite use and understanding, and clarify benefits. His work was inviting, accessible, and usable, and not only spawned new generations of beneficial products and services but also changed our understanding, perceptions, and expectations.

Apple is still around and will still be working to change the world around us, as are the many companies that Apple inspired and competed against. And many others also led and contributed to the information technology revolution over the years, and they will continue to lead and contribute, and continue to evolve our relationship with and understanding of technology. But Steve Jobs is one of the few who understood the full picture—that done right, turning technical complexity into usable simplicity can create enormous benefits for society.

We’re in a brave new world. Thanks for everything, Steve.

Glenn Hampson

Glenn is Executive Director of the Science Communication Institute and Program Director for SCI’s global Open Scholarship Initiative. You can reach him at [email protected].