Steve Jobs insisted every bolt on Pixar’s HQ be hand-tightened

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Steve Jobs sweated the details of the Steve Jobs Building on the Pixar campus in Emeryville, California.
Steve Jobs sweated the details.
Photo: Duluoz cats/Flickr CC

Breaking news: Steve Jobs was kind of a perfectionist when it came to design.

OK, so that’s not exactly the world’s best-kept secret. But a new story about the creation of Pixar’s headquarters highlights Jobs’ obsessive attention to detail. For anyone who remembers hearing about the creation of Apple Park, it will sound eerily familiar…

A key part of Pixar

The new details come from a San Francisco Business Times interview with Patty Bonfilio, director of facility operations at Pixar Animation Studios.

“When Steve was designing the building, he let the first architect go,” she recalled. “It was clear to Steve [the architect] wanted to do his design and not Steve’s, so Steve said ‘no.’”

Jobs then hired architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to design the Steve Jobs Building on the Pixar campus. It’s one of three buildings on the 22-acre site in Emeryville, California. Design work on the building commenced in 1996, with staffers moving in in 2000.

The architects incorporated steel, glass, brick and wood into the 218,000-square-foot building’s design.

“Steve Jobs not only researched the history of the area but other works of architecture for inspiration, basing the design on an industrial warehouse look of the area’s surrounding buildings, most constructed in the 1920s,” Bonfilio said.

The article contains plenty of other very Steve Jobs-esque details. For instance, he wouldn’t allow construction workers to use pneumatic tools on the building. Instead, they had to manually turn the thousands of bolts used in the building by hand with a wrench. Job also “personally selected each wood panel that would be seen by the public.”

Jobs sweated the details

For anyone who followed Jobs’ career, the article sounds very familiar. Jobs lavished enormous attention on details many would consider incidental. This could be anything from making sure the back (or even inside) of a computer was as attractive as the front, to hand-selecting the objects on display in the original Mac offices to ensure they suitably inspired the employees.

Apple Park was one of the last projects Jobs was actively involved in at Apple (although construction work was only carried out after his death). In a Wired profile of the Apple HQ, an architect on the project recalled Jobs’ obsession with getting the right wood for the project:

“He knew exactly what timber he wanted, but not just ‘I like oak’ or ‘I like maple.’ He knew it had to be quarter-­cut. It had to be cut in the winter, ideally in January, to have the least amount of sap and sugar content. We were all sitting there, architects with gray hair, going, ‘Holy shit!’”

Why it matters

Nearly a decade after Jobs passed away, stories like this offer a fun reminder of just how exacting he could be. But we also hope this mindset continues to thrive at Apple.

Sweating the small details can seem pointless. But the small details are what separates good from great, or great from insanely great. With Jobs’ design partner Jony Ive no longer at Apple, we hope stories like this will continue to play a role in Apple.