It does, you know. You just have to get it hot enough.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Back when we used to care about the form of computers…

Way back in the day I had an AT&T 3b1 UNIX(tm) workstation. It wasn’t just an amazingly useful desktop unix workstation, it was this wedge-shaped piece of white plastic that was quite pleasing to look at. Supercomputer companies like Cray and Thinking Machines also understood the importance of visual design and color selection on their behemoths, Thinking Machines went so far as to hire Maya Lin to design the CM-5.

Poking around the InterWebs today, I found an amazing collection of photographs of vintage computers. Interesting not because of their power or age, but because they show the importance of visual design during the days of supercomputers.

Mark Richards’ Core Memory is a collection of his photographs of some of the most visual interesting computers in history. Skip past the big bundles of wires and tubes and take a long look at things like the control panel for the PDP-8 or the button layout and typography on vintage IBM mainframes. The photos are collected in a book — “Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Comptuers” — soon to be published by Chronicle Books.

Where is that level of design in today’s high-end computers? Sure, Apple has a few nice products, but why are the vast majority of computers so damn hard on the eyes? Does it really cost so much extra to have a clean layout on the console of a rack-mounted blade or a desk-side case? My PC’s cd-eject and reset buttons are almost identical in shape and size, are located only an inch or two apart, and as are all the buttons on my PC, all the same color. Does it really add too much to the COG to hire a designer or even an intern and have them clean things up and fix major flaws?

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posted by jet at 16:01  


  1. If you were still in Mountain View, you could come down and see the Computer History Museum, which has lots of great examples of vintage computers. Last time I was there, I was amazed by the number of machines that had built in ashtrays. I suppose when we finally outlaw headphones (sic) due to the damage they’re causing to our ears, that the ubiquitous headphone jack will have a similar nostalgia… :)

    My favorite there is the “kitchen computer” that has a cutting board built right in. Ahhhh you’ve got to love “integration” and “convergence”.

    Comment by slacy — 2008/04/08 @ 16:48

  2. I’m out there often enough, I just need to make time in my schedule to spend a few hours there with a tripod and my DSLR….

    Comment by jet — 2008/04/08 @ 17:50

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