Landmarks in Interaction Design

From the first mouse to the first web browser – we present a brief history of things interactive

1956 First TV Remote Control
With a “flash of magic light”, the Zenith Flash-matic became the world’s first TV remote control. Like a cross between a hairdryer and a laser-gun, it “worked TV miracles” in conjunction with The Bismarck: a battleship of a TV set which came encased in a mahogany cabinet. The Flash-matic also allowed viewers to “shut off long annoying commercials” thus pre-dating the Tivo by about half a century.

1963 First Mouse
Bill Moggridge’s excellent book, Designing Interactions (MIT Press, £25.95), charts the development of the major leaps forward in computer technology, among them the mouse. Its invention is widely credited to Doug Engelbart, a former radar technician who came up with the concept while at Stanford Research Institute. There were a lot of competing input devices at the time – such as light pens that had been used for years by radar operators, and tracking balls – but in user testing, the mouse was revealed to be the most intuitive way of interacting with the screen. In the early 70s, Engelbart joined the XeroxPARC research institute with several members of his team and helped put the mouse and desktop together.

1967 First atm
For many people, their first exposure to an interactive electronic interface would have been via the humble cashpoint. According to The History of Computing Project (www.thocp.net), ideas for automated bank-tellers had been around since 1939 when Luther George Sumjian persuaded what is now Citicorp to trial his version. Unfortunately, Sumjian said, the only people who wanted to use it were gamblers and prostitutes. Barclays claim to have installed the world’s first electronic ATM in the glamorous setting of their Enfield Town branch, north London in 1967. Its launch was equally glamorous, with On The Buses’ Reg Varney chosen to officially open it. However, the machine only accepted pre-printed vouchers: the first ATM as we know them today was installed at a New York branch of Chemical Bank in 1969.

1972 First Digital Watch
Costing $2,100, the Pulsar P-1 became the world’s first commercially available digital watch (or “time computer”) when it was launched by the Hamilton Watch Company in January 1972. Only 400 were made, all of them in 18 karat gold. The impetus behind the project came from Stanley Kubrick who asked Hamilton to create a “completely new type of clock” to appear in his film 2001. Unfortunately, the scene featuring Hamilton’s digital clock didn’t make the final edit but the seed was sown. In interaction design terms, the P-1 had one major problem: in order to see the time, you had to press a button. According to www.oldpulsars.com, its maker optimistically claimed that this gave users “a feeling of involvement” but it soon became a chore, especially if you wanted to know the time while, say, driving or carrying anything. Image of original P-1 courtesy of www.theledwatch.com

1979-1983 The Lisa
The Local Integrated Software Architecture, or Apple Lisa was developed in the late 80s as a general business machine that would employ the then-revolutionary concept of a graphical user interface. Users would be faced with an electronic desktop which they could move around using a mouse. Software development was led by Bill Atkinson whose Polaroids documenting the early stages of the interface design are shown here (reproduced from Designing Interactions, see above). Launched in January 1983, the first Lisa had 1Mb of RAM and cost the equivalent of $19,000 in today’s money.

1984 Apple System 1
Susan Kare’s contribution to the revolutionary design of the Apple Mac interface was documented in our September issue. Kare joined Apple in 1982 as a full-time “Macintosh artist” to work on proportional fonts and icons. A fine arts graduate turned illustrator, she created the most familiar Apple icons, including the bomb, smiley face and watch. Care also created the Control Panel shown here. Unlike the Lisa (see p.47), which was designed with an office worker in mind, Apple thought of the typical Mac user as a 14 year-old boy. This allowed the development team far more latitude in developing the interface. Their playful solutions went a long way toward creating the emotional bond between Apple and its users that became such a key component of the company’s success.

1985 Windows 1.01
A year after the launch of the Apple Mac, Microsoft debuted the first version of Windows. Although Apple lost a subsequent lawsuit accusing Microsoft of copying significant elements of its GUI, the similarities were obvious from the very beginning. The Windows interface, however, was crude in comparison to Apple’s beautifully crafted graphics. Although this clock from Windows 1.01 (courtesy www.guidebookgallery.org) now has a certain retro charm, it looked positively prehistoric compared to Apple’s watch icon. Windows’ brutalist functionalism compared to Apple’s style and wit embodied the differences between the approaches of Apple and Microsoft: the two companies’ vastly different brand values were perfectly expressed through the look and feel of their operating systems.

1990 First web browser
And so it began. In 1990, this was the only way to see the web. This first web browser was actually called WorldWideWeb. Later, as the web’s inventor Tim Berners-Lee recalls at www.w3.org, its name was changed to Nexus in order to “save confusion between the program and the abstract information space”. The first versions were black and white as the NeXT computer on which the software was written was only capable of greyscale images. This colour version dates from 1993. This early version already had features such as “back” and “next” with which to navigate the links that could be created. It also enabled users to load a style sheet so that they could define how they would like their documents to be rendered. Other browsers were subsequently developed, but NCSA Mosaic, launched in 1993, became the first to achieve widespread popularity as it could handle embedded graphics and was the first to be available for Mac and Windows users.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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