Thursday, October 6, 2011

thinking about Apple

Macintosh 128K Home Computer,
designed by Steve Jobs and  Jerry Manock, 1984.
Museum of Modern Art, via ARTstor.
It is touching to see the volume of tributes to Steve Jobs coming from people like us – not journalists or public figures, but regular folks addressing second-person messages to a man they’d never met, delivered via social media, and typed out on devices that didn’t exist just ten years ago. Since tin box was designed, blogged and filmed on Macs and iPhones, we thought we should share some of the lessons (for architecture and culture) we learned from our computers:

1. Technology should be transparent. The best technology is invisible. It requires no thought. With the Mac operating systems, writers could write and designers could design without ever having to worry about how the software affected their work (or at least not the part provided by Apple… if you’re stuck using Microsoft Office applications, however, it’s a different story…). As designers and visual artists, we could move images and ideas between applications seamlessly and intuitively. We became experts in using software without opening manuals. The technology was transparent.

2. Design matters. Not styling – the part where you gussy up something in a shiny package – but design, the resolution of functional concerns in the most elegant manner possible. Apple’s industrial design is integral to the seamless interconnections between applications and operating systems. Yes, the computers are beautiful, but all the more so because they are a delight to use.

3. Innovation matters. Too much of our economy seems predicated on the practice of repackaging successful ideas in cheaper or more popular forms. Apple’s success has always come from answering questions that had never been asked before. The Apple II computers I used in high school thirty years ago were initially dismissed by an industry that assumed it would only build machines for large corporations and institutions. The graphic user interface at the heart of every operating system was likewise treated with disdain by experts who couldn’t see a need to make technology transparent and intuitive. iPods? An expensive toy. iPhones? Why bundle a computer, camera and MP3 player into an expensive cell phone? iPads? You get the picture. In no case did Apple have to convince people to buy equipment they didn’t need; these innovations quickly found an audience eager to adapt the new technology to their lives. [In case you were wondering, 15% of tin box visitors access the blog on mobile devices, and another 35% read us on their Macs.]


  1. oh how i wish i was reading this on a mac right now, from work... if i access from my ipad later, does that count? ;)

  2. Our stats tracker doesn't correlate the data on traffic sources, platforms and posts (so we don't know how many people got to this post from Facebook on a Mac), but today's traffic has been about half and half (Mac and Windows) with a little iPhone and Android in there, which is fairly usual for us. Ever since the blog started reaching people outside our families and social circle, we started getting more Windows than Mac readers. Curious...

  3. Apple also did away with devices that they augured would be unnecessary, such as floppy and optical disk drives. This led to more energy efficient and compact devices.