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What Steve Jobs’ personal style can teach us about branding

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Image of Steve Jobs demoing Quick Look

acaben / Flickr

[Steve Jobs] came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style. “So I asked [designer] Issey [Miyake] to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them,” [Jobs said]. — An excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s book, ‘Steve Jobs,’ as quoted in Gawker.

I always notice the clothing people wear — I don’t know why, I just find it interesting — and so I was particularly fascinated by Gawker’s recent revelation as to why Steve Jobs wore the “uniform” he did.

The clothing you wear communicates a message to everyone around you. If you’ve ever dressed up for an interview, you understand this.

Steve Jobs dressed down more than up, and he pretty much wore the same thing anytime he was seen in public. So what is there to learn from his turtleneck-and-jeans?

Wearing a uniform makes you a blank canvas

I know plenty of people who just throw on whatever and whose attitude is, “You should take the time to get to know me and not worry about what I’m wearing.” That’s true, except that we all know it’s not. Those same people dress up when they want to impress someone (job interviews, dates), which always makes me wonder: What if someone you want to impress shows up unexpectedly? and So what does it say about the people you see every day that you don’t put any thought into how you dress?

But I digress.

Jobs’ look had the effect of diverting attention away from himself and toward whatever it was he actually wanted you to be focused on. The look was (1) simple, so as not to distract, and (2) consistent. No Apple launch event was ever spoiled by a Chris Brown’s Bowtie moment. Jobs kept his look streamlined and uncluttered (not unlike his Apple products).

Three takeaways

1. Make sure your look puts people’s attention where you want it. If you’re starting a blog and you want people to focus on your words, don’t fuss over a fancy design. If you’re trying to find work as a photographer, don’t make people read a bunch of text on your website; opt for a photo-centric layout. And so on.

2. Keep it consistent. For my fellow Parks & Rec fans out there, think of what April told Andy when he kept changing the name of his band (I’m paraphrasing): “No one’s gonna be able to follow your band if they don’t know what the name is.” For the rest of you, think of the branding problem Netflix/Qwikster-no-wait-just-Netflix-again is having right now.

3. Lastly, the biggest takeaway from Steve Jobs’ Turtleneck: “he … came to like the idea of having a uniform … to convey a signature style.”

Be original.

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