Five Years On: Designing IT Experiences Steve Would Have Liked

There’s a group of people in every IT Department over a certain size that are tasked with “Executive Support”, meant to interact with the high-touch execs of any company, mostly to help them deal with whatever IT policies have been put in place by a CISO or CTO to help make the company more secure, often at the cost of user experiences.

In my first IT job, I was the executive support for a particularly difficult vice president, someone who could make you feel small and useless if you didn’t have the right answer at the right moment. It was a difficult job, being in Sauron’s eye, sometimes. I imagine that working for this person was a bit like working for Steve Jobs: highly demanding, highly sensitive to bad design, highly willing to grab a flamethrower and start marching on the cubes.

I am a better IT professional today because I think to myself every time now: “How will my clients and staffers feel about this particular change?” Will the results of this change be potentially ambiguous, and thus confusing? Will this change affect their user experience? If so, can I justify that change, and present them with the information ahead of their install?

Your staff and your colleagues are counting on a user experience that is comfortable to them, and thus, changes to their environment without clear justifications (valid reasons include security, data safety, and increased functionality; invalid reasons include capricious restrictions and management without explanation) are unwelcome, unfamiliar, and will cost them productivity, and worse, their trust in you.

Your open dialog with your coworkers and clients relies on them to trust you not to mess with their user experience without providing countervailing benefits in other places. Don’t forget that. If you do, your coworkers and clients will do everything they can to undermine your position, work around your protections, and distrust you. This is not the role of good IT.

So if you do something today to mark the passing of Steve, make it something that empowers your coworkers and clients, make it be something that surprises and delights. Be there for your people, because you’d want them to be there for you. Every coworker and client deserves the level of support you give to the executives, from the office admin, to the line manager, to the C-suite. That’s what Steve’s vision of the Mac was all about. It’s our job to carry that legacy onward.

Steve Jobs by Ben Stanfield
Photo of Steve Jobs by Ben Stanfield