Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Designing IBM PC

Designing IBM PC: “We want it for entertainment. We want it in the living room. Now, how should we design this damned keyboard to fit in the decor…?”

Dan Formosa of Smart Design recalls in an interview with Debbie Millman: “Eliot Noyes at IBM hired me to design their first IBM PC since I was one of the rare people in the 70’s who was familiar with computer.  I recall the design brief that said: “We want this PC for entertainment. We want it in the living room. Now, how should we design this damned keyboard to fit in the decor…?”

The IBM design team knew that other teenagers were building personal computers in garages (Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs…), and they wanted to be first in the PC market.  IBM had about 100,000 employees and they decided to contract out a team of three in the West Coast (Gates was one of them) to write the operating system.  If I had my wherewithal, I would have been the fourth member in the operating system team…

The person running the IBM PC design program made a comparison between Betamax (exclusivity of Sony invention) and VHS.  He wanted the operating system to work with all computer companies, and that was Windows.  Apple went Betamax route.

In the 70’s, people viewed computer and marketing companies as “evil”, and they were dumped in the same basket as Big Brothers.  If a product looked “designed” it was considered suspicious.  I recall presenting a computer generated design of a wireframe to my art class and I was made fun of and taunted as rallying the evil bandwagon.  I refrained to show any other computer designed works to my classmate.

“Everyone should have access to whatever product and technology your brand offers…Left handed, right-handed, tall, short, expert or first-time novices should feel they have access to a brand product or service…Usability tests were rare in the 70’s and 80’s…

To whom corporations designed before 1980? Marketing and engineers had idealized images of the perfect consumers who didn’t exist…Whatever was designed was for the median population

When I asked the marketing divisions to talk to consumers for input to my design they freaked out. They said that customers are their exclusive rights and responsibility: It was unheard of to consult with customers on what they liked…Usability was not considered a designer responsibility: Design connoted simply “esthetics”.

Marketing divisions looked at designers with antipathy: marketers were considered the power players when it came to deciding what consumers wanted.

The Design phase was attached at the very end of the project when engineering job was completed.  When Dan worked on OXO kitchen products for Sam Farber he conducted usability studies to ensure that people could use the product. “I never asked permission for conducting usability studies and I designed for the edge (tails) of the population and not for the mainstream…”

Designers tend to be a conservative group. It should be a good strategy to “manage change” as we introduce an innovation..

Introducing a new technology should be a step-by-step process:

First, you should take the trouble and time to educate the consumers to digest and integrate the product in their lives, be able to respond with positive feedback…That is why most new innovations are not success stories, until 20 years later as someone else revisit the product attributes for ready consumers.

Looks like voice recognition is one of these innovations ready to fly big time.

Note: Dan Formosa designed one of the first laptop computers and participated in the design of OXO kitchen products for Sam Farber. Dan launched Smart Design in 1981.  Dan recently received a National Design Award for “Product Design” and was recognized for “Corporate Institutional Achievement“. Formosa went ahead and earned two other degrees: a master’s in biomechanics and ergonomics in the mid 80’s, and then in psychology.




March 2023

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