THE BLOG
04/04/2012 05:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2012

Steve Jobs Is Helping Me

That's right, sports fans: Steve Jobs is helping me design my hardcover travel-adventure book, Surfing the Middle East. Well... while I'm reading his biography, that is.

And so, don't mistake this little blog entry as some comment on Newt Gingrich-style "open relationships," or how ridiculous all those American Yoga studios are with their half-naked Indian gurus hung on the wall... this post is about design. And how to do it. Steve Jobs style.

Now, I'm not going to yell at you (like Jobs was known to do). I'm not going to call you "fucking dickless assholes" as Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson, quotes from a meeting with VLSI Technology where someone apparently didn't do something right. No, this post is about grace. And the ability to conceptualize a product and hone in on the details to refine it into an experience where people keep knocking at the door for more.

So rather than hitting the geek pipe and making computers with my life, I chose a different path: combining Middle East surfing and journalism. And sweet hell, why not?

This whole thing started somewhere in early 2009, when I was about to graduate from college but couldn't find a job. I did everything. Even failed a State Department Foreign Service Exam. And so it was from the more radical depths of my very different mind that I decided that it would be a good idea to try to tell the story of the Middle East through surfing: from Israel to Lebanon, around the closed border, in a place the New York Times calls the "world's most combustible region."

Of course you can't go directly from Israel to Lebanon. The closed border is in the way, with all sides taking the fiercest aim at each other. So, you have to go around. Meaning that after I somehow found surf in northern Israel, I would have to go back down through Jerusalem, across the West Bank, fly from Jordan and over Syria, and land in a Lebanese airport that required me to get a second American passport. (Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, and in Lebanon they deny entry to anyone with an Israeli visa.)

It was a rip-roaring adventure, all right. And you can read about it in my upcoming book, Surfing the Middle East: Deviant Journalism from the Lost Generation. But the reason for this post is that I wanted to share another story from along the way... but this one doesn't exactly land us in the Orient.

Designing my hardcover book (and interactive iPad app) has been just as big of an escapade as traveling with a surfboard in the Middle East. It has caused me to pull my hair out, ram my truck into fire hydrants, and play my electric guitar in ways that even I find too offensive to share in this hell-bent blog post. But it was all worth it.

Nothing energizes me more than creating a product out of surfing from Israel to Lebanon. It's adventure, journalism and sport, all wrapped into one. And in trying to convey that experience to you, I'm working to design a hardcover book that's a thrill of its own. In fact, I'm turning to my own naked Indian guru: Steve Jobs. Or at least what Walter Isaacson has written about this most unusual sandal-wearing, beard-growing, perfectionist obsessive billionaire hippie, who had more Bob Dylan tapes than even I do.

One of the basic tenets that I've learned from Jobs is that it's all about The Product. Everything else is secondary. (To hell with my Twitter account!) If you don't have a good product then you might as well stop what you're doing and not pollute the human race with more ill-conceived crap.

As is the case for all physical products (like the iPhone or even a graphically enhanced hardcover travel book), the consumer needs to feel like they can dominate the product experience. Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, who was head of design at Apple, worked tirelessly to make the iPhone so easy to use that even technology-fearing grandmothers stand in line for it.

Then there's the simplicity of a product and getting to its roots of the thing. When Apple released the original iMac in that cool blue color (that I can never remember how to spell), Bill Gates called it a "fad" and thought that all anyone had to do was paint one of those hideous PC towers and that the iMac craze would be over. He was wrong. By making the iMac blue and transparent, they focused on elements of design that struck right at the essence of their product. The iMacs were fun and accessible, and you felt proud to have one in your house. They helped make Apple what it is today.

There's plenty more to learn from Steve Jobs, but that's going to have to do it for now. Because as Jobs would say, you need to be as proud of the things you don't do as the things you do. And with that, his formula of focusing on making a few great products that consumers feel a personal bond with is the secret.

Jobs was about selling an experience.

So why not try to learn a thing or two and ingrain some of that wisdom into my own travel book?

Can it be done? Hell, it's worth a shot.