Wednesday, August 31, 2016

History of Computer Design: Macintosh

The physical design of the Macintosh has signs of this self-consciously revolutionary atmosphere. The members of the team each signed the cast of the inside of the case - though mainly technicians would see it, they put their signature on their work like the radical artists they felt they were. In a durable case of carefully selected ABS plastic and with a very fine texture that could make scratches less apparent, it was meant to last. This concern for detail and endurance included even the colour of the plastic, a tawny brown called PMS 453 that Jerry Manock thought would age well, unlike the lighter plastic of the Lisa which shifted with prolonged exposure to sunlight to a bright orange (Kunkel, 25).

Jobs encouraged the Macintosh team to learn from mistakes made by the large team designing the Lisa. The thick band of plastic over the Lisa's screen reminded Jobs of a Cro-Magnon forehead, and he guided the physical appearance of the Mac to make it seem more cheerful (Sculley, 160). Since the Macintosh was to be easy to use, it should have a friendly appearance. Like the Lisa, the Macintosh has its circuitry, disk drive and display in a single unit with a keyboard and mouse, a self-contained design requiring only three cables, including the power cord, and contributing to a far easier assembly for the user than the increasingly established PCs. However, its disk drive is below the display, making it taller, narrower, more symmetrical, and far more suggestive of a face. Rather than looking cantilevered, the display has only a small recess below to elevate it and give some room for the keyboard, but this also enhances the impression of a chin. The simple anthropomorphic quality of the case and the few cables contribute to the Macintosh's identity as a computer that ordinary people could understand.

The design of the case was closely guided by Steve Jobs, and his name appears on its design patent along with its producers, Terry Oyama with Jerry Manock. Oyama later said, "Even though Steve didn't draw any of the lines, his ideas and inspiration made the design what it is. To be honest, we didn't know what it meant for a computer to be 'friendly' until Steve told us" (Kunkel, 26). (...)

The way in which the Macintosh can be used is also strongly guided by physical design. The keyboard is like that of a typewriter except for the option and command keys, the latter sporting the Apple logo, that are on either side to accommodate both left and right-handed typists. It does not have the numerous function keys or even the cursor keys found on other computer keyboards. The lack of these keys is what Donald Norman calls a forcing device; without them, the user is forced to use the mouse. This was a very intentional strategy used by Jobs to ensure that the Macintosh would be used in the way designed, with a mouse rather than with the then-familiar key commands. This strategy also forced software developers to create applications that take advantage of the mouse-driven graphical interface, rather than reproduce existing software for the new platform (Levy, 194-5).

The ports on the back of the Macintosh are recessed to prevent users from trying to plug in non-compatible peripherals. Each of these ports is labeled with an easily understood icon developed by Apple according to the Deutsche Industrie Norman standard. These icons, on a clear plastic label applied by hand, help prevent injury to the computer and confusion for the user. To further simplify use, the power switch (the only switch on the computer; even ejecting a disk is controlled through the graphical interface) is located on the back where it cannot be hit accidentally, but has a smooth area around it in the otherwise textured plastic to guide the user's hand. Manock was proud to fine-tune his design in this way, and said, "That's the kind of detail that turns an ordinary product into an artifact." A similarly subtle detail is found on the underside of the handle at the top of the machine: ribs in the plastic there make it easier to grip the case (Kunkel, 24). (...)

The concern for details on the Macintosh was unprecedented for a computer and gave it a sense of personality. Many Macintosh owners feel a relationship with their computer that extends far beyond its functions. Upon its release, it was frequently described, not in terms of its technology, but as an art object. One early article advises caring for the machine as if signs of its normal use as a tool were unfortunate blemishes - it suggests users "clean the Macintosh's exterior with a soft sable paintbrush, which you can buy at any art store" (MacWorld, Dec. 1984, p. 45).

The Macintosh is clearly shaped to provide as much uniformity in user experience as possible. However, the limitations of the machine were sometimes resented. The Macintosh initially sold to technophiles, early adopters of innovations who tolerated an unrefined product in favour of novelty. These early Mac users were immediately passionate, but Douglas Adams typifies them by saying, "What I . . . fell in love with was not the machine itself, which was ridiculously slow and underpowered, but a romantic idea of the machine" (Levy, 187).

Ed Tracy, Landsnail |  Read more:
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