I turned to my sister on the train this morning and said, “Steve Jobs is why I do what I do.” I had alluded to this in the past, mostly to close friend and colleagues, but his passing drove it home. It made me want to rip off my tie, change into some jeans and a t-shirt and get back to innovating and iterating. I need to make experiences that matter, tie be damned.
Steve is the reason I do what I do.
The first Apple product I encountered was an Apple IIe, at my friend Chris Smead’s house. I promptly was scolded by his mother for hitting the keys too hard while using it. I remember thinking the keys were meant for hitting.
My friend Angus Jennings father bought a Mac in 1984. It changed my life. Instead of going over to play legos or star wars, I spent hours on Mac Draw creating pictures with a mouse. I was addicted. A Mac at my house soon followed.
In high school, as PCs became ubiquitous, my school papers started needing to be printed. My Apple StyleWriter inkjet printer did the deed. In response, many of my friends with dot-matrix printouts convinced their parents to buy $1000+ laser printers. If only they knew my printer cost $250.
By the time I headed to college in 1993, I left with a Mac. When the OJ Simpson verdict was announced, I was in my dorm on the phone with Mac support troubleshooting my Performa. The rep on the phone told me she was the only one on a call at the time.
I suffered through the lean Mac years with a Power Computing clone. I searched for the “you can take the Mac out of my cold, dead hands” tee. I never found it. Upon Steve’s return to Apple, I bought an orange iBook. Its $1000 price tag took a big bite out of my 23k salary.
Apple had become a large part of my life.
Then, when the iPod arrived, I was in the midst of recovering from a tumultuous relationship. Just owing it buoyed me in a way that no other product ever had. I was 26 and spending lots of time in bars, so first chance I got, I brought my iPod one night to show off.
“I don’t get it. This is hard to use,” my friend Bill Brady confided, “I’ll never buy one of these.”
He had one within two years.
As much as Bill was wrong, he had a point. The iPod was one of those products that would have never gotten out of a focus group at HP. Usability testing would have ditched the scroll wheel in favor or a myriad of dedicated buttons. Anywhere else, Steve would have been laughed out of the building.
But the thing was, it was actually an easier way of dealing with long lists of music than the traditional rewind and fast forward buttons. It was a task that users had never had to deal with, so they couldn’t know the best way to do it. Steve’s solution was simple and elegant. He knew.
It was an epiphany for me. Outside of my Apple experiences, I had grown up consuming products that had been tested and marketed into one-size-fits-all blandness. And the iPod was the most brazen attempt at bucking the need to quantify and over analyze everything in business. It was a big “fuck you” to the bean counters who hedged every time a small minority of customers said they didn’t get it. At least that’s how I saw it.
That was just it: under Steve, Apple created products for me. Products that were easy to use, exciting and beautiful.
Steve made it important for products to not just be useful or beautiful, but to be both. He brought art to products and humanized them in the process. He made both UX and designer integral – perhaps even the most important – parts of product development. And in doing so, he made a job for me.
Thank you Steve. I will miss you.