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November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
How did we get from there to here?
The revolutionary ideas in Engelbart’s demo were further developed at Xerox PARC, where a 24-year-old Steve Jobs took a legendary tour in 1979 that convinced him that the GUI represented the democratic future of computing. (“I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life,” he said later. “Within ten minutes, it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this someday.”) He promptly licensed the GUI technology he saw at work in a non-commercial product called the Xerox Alto for a modest amount of Apple stock, and the rest is Silicon Valley history.
Shortly thereafter, Xerox doomed its chances to own the icon-driven future by pouring its resources into the Xerox Star, a product aimed strictly at the corporate market. Each Star purchase required an initial $75,000 installation and a network of external file servers, plus another $16,000 for each additional workstation (twice the price of a new car at the time). A digital revolution for the masses, it wasn’t.
The genius of Steve Jobs, Jef Raskin, and the rest of the Mac team was recognizing a huge untapped market for home computing among artists, musicians, writers, and other creative weirdos who might never have cared enough to master the arcane complexities of a command-line UI or blow a fortune on hulking digital workstations.
The challenge of designing a personal computer that “the rest of us” would not only buy, but fall crazy in love with, however, required input from the kind of people who might some day be convinced to try using a Mac. Fittingly, one of the team’s most auspicious early hires was a young artist herself: Susan Kare.
After taking painting lessons as a young girl and graduating from New York University with a Ph.D. in fine arts, Kare moved to the Bay Area, where she took a curatorial job at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. But she quickly felt like she was on the wrong side of the creative equation. “I’d go talk to artists in their studios for exhibitions,” she recalls, “but I really wanted to be working in my studio.”
Eventually Kare earned a commission from an Arkansas museum to sculpt a razorback hog out of steel. That was the project she was tackling in her garage in Palo Alto when she got a call from a high-school friend named Andy Hertzfeld, who was the lead software architect for the Macintosh operating system, offering her a job.
Kare’s first assignment was developing fonts for the Mac OS. At the time, digital typefaces were monospaced, meaning that both a narrow I and a broad M were wedged into the same bitmapped real estate — a vestigial legacy of the way that a typewriter platen advances, one space at a time. Jobs was determined to come up with something better for his sleek new machine, having been impressed by the grace of finely wrought letterforms in calligraphy classes he audited at Reed College, taught by the Trappist monk Robert Palladino, a disciple of master calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds. (The lasting impact of Reynolds’ instruction can also be seen in the playful cursive of the seminal West Coast Beat poets Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, making Reynolds and Palladino the human hyperlinks between desktop publishing and Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums.)
For the Mac, Kare designed the first proportionally spaced digital font family that allowed text to breathe as naturally on the Mac’s white screen as it does in the pages of a book. The distinctive Jobs touch was upgrading the original monikers of these elegant typefaces from the names of train stations near Philadelphia — like Rosemont and Ardmore — to those of world-class cities like Geneva, Chicago, and New York.
Inspired by the collaborative intelligence of her fellow software designers, Kare stayed on at Apple to craft the navigational elements for Mac’s GUI. Because an application for designing icons on screen hadn’t been coded yet, she went to the University Art supply store in Palo Alto and picked up a $2.50 sketchbook so she could begin playing around with forms and ideas. In the pages of this sketchbook, which hardly anyone but Kare has seen before now*, she created the casual prototypes of a new, radically user-friendly face of computing — each square of graph paper representing a pixel on the screen.
More of the article at the above URL….