July 13, 2012
The Macintosh introduced the possibilities of industrial and user-centered design to the computing masses, emphasizing usability and user experience over cryptic and often inaccessible hardware and software capabilities. The result is as much art object as computer, and like a work of art bears the signature of the original team members on its inner case. Where does such a revolutionary design find its inspiration? Often from other revolutionary designs. Andy Hertzfeld, original Macintosh design team member, recounts one design discussion: "I heard loud voices emanating from Bud [Tribble's] office, which was adjacent to mine, apparently engaged in a spirited discussion. 'It's got to be different, different from everything else … We need it to have a classic look that won't go out of style, like the Volkswagen Beetle,' I heard Steve [Jobs] tell James [Ferris]. 'No, that's not right,' James replied. 'The lines should be voluptuous, like a Ferrari.' 'Not a Ferrari, that's not right, either,' Steve responded, apparently excited by the car comparison. 'It should be more like a Porsche!'"
The inspiration may have been an exotic car, but the computer's prima facie appeal has more to do with its baby-face appearance than its Porsche-inspired lines: vertical versus horizontal orientation, chamfered top edge as high forehead, inset monitor as large eyes, disk drive slot as mouth, and a small recess at the bottom as a small chin. If the baby-face connection is not immediately obvious to some users, it becomes obvious when they are presented with an iconic version of the computer's face, smiling, at startup. Note that baby-face features convey a light, playful quality, which more serious users (e.g., business professionals) will not (and did not) find appealing.
The edges of the face are chamfered, softening the rectangle and directing the eyes inward. The distance between the top of the case and the display bezel is small, consistent with the sides, and the inset of the bezel itself is shallow, avoiding what Jobs referred to as the "Cro-Magnon forehead" possessed by other models. A carrying handle is cut into the top, enabling the computer to be easily carried, even playfully swung, with one hand. Practical and functional, but also a bit toylike — could a serious computing device really be carried in such a manner?
Standing on the shoulders of the work at Stanford Research Institute and Xerox PARC, the Macintosh was the first commercially successful product to employ a graphical user interface (GUI). The Mac GUI — desktop metaphor, fixed menu system, direct manipulation icons — revolutionized human-computer interaction, and remains fundamentally unchanged to this day.
The disk drive is easily accessible from the front. Centering versus right-aligning the drive slot would better accommodate both left- and right-handed users, achieve better visual balance with the left-aligned Apple logo (the grip-well serving as the visual counterweight), and appear more mouthlike, strengthening the baby-face proportions of the design.
The design language of the computer is consistently applied to the keyboard and mouse, both of which share the same ABS material, chamfered corners, and minimalist aesthetic. The keyboard is more akin to a typewriter than a computer keyboard, a simpler design lacking the numerous control and function keys that so often clutter computer keyboards. The basic proportions of the mouse and the face of the Macintosh are equivalent, with the mouse's single button approximating the position of the screen.
If the original Mac was the computer for "the rest of us," I clearly wasn't in that group. The Mac offered me little; it was weak, unreliable, and lacked adequate tools and support. My 128K Mac was soon relegated to my office floor, where it reliably propped open the door for many years. With our short memories, it's easy today to imagine that the original Mac was like a modern MacBook except with a floppy, but it really was just a well-designed toy computer, unfit for professional use.
As a fan of Star Trek in the 1960s, I watched as Mr. Spock inserted a flat plastic square into a computer to access information on the deck of the starship Enterprise. In the 1980s, I too accessed information by inserting a flat plastic square into a Macintosh computer and stood next to Mr. Spock as science fiction became reality.
I purchased a Macintosh Plus in high school. Its ease of use influenced my decision to go into human factors, and nearly twenty-five years later we're still predominately computing with graphical user interfaces controlled by a mouse. But if you look deeper, you can see signs of the Apple/Jobs tug-of-war between usability and designer ego — a built-in handle, the lack of a fan to reduce noise (and unfortunately, reliability), and the development team's signatures on the inner casework.
I was just going on twelve years old when the Apple Macintosh came out in 1984. Given its icon status, I never encountered one until I got to college six years later. While I wrote my senior thesis on a PC, I designed my senior thesis on a Mac. I still love the smiley face that greeted you when you turned it on. It just made you feel happy although you had not slept for days, working on your thesis.
Source: Deconstructing Product Design