Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jef Raskin on icons

In 1979, as an employee at Apple, Jef Raskin started the MacIntosh project (he was also responsible for changing the name of the computer from the Annie to the MacIntosh because he thought it was sexist to name computers after women).

Steve Jobs and Jef Raskin, image from Mac History.

Although I'm pretty sure he was wrong about the mouse, I love what he had to say about icons.

[Jef] the idea of a bitmapped display and windows, but he was not as charmed by all the cute graphics and icons, and he absolutely detested the idea of using a point-and-click mouse rather than the keyboard. "Some of the people on the project became enamored of the quest to do everything with the mouse," he later groused. "Another example is the absurd application of icons. An icon is a symbol equally incomprehensible in all human languages. There's a reason why humans invented phonetic languages." p111, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson



Beth Tondreau said...

It's impressive that Raskin avoided sexism by masterminding the name change—and interesting that he hated the mouse. I guess Raskin was more of a computer geek who knew commands and programming. The intuitive hands-on qualities of mouse, iPhone, iPad etc. belie all the programming (that I for one, alas, can't do).

Beth Tondreau said...

Steven Heller's interview with Bill Haig, Ph.D., who has a doctorate in logo design—and who worked with Saul Bass—touches on visual literacy and how "pictures" can communicate:

How would you define visual literacy?

Simply that “pictures” can be communicated and the meaning of pictures can be read and understood as non-verbal communication if someone is visually literate. This is the communication of icons, symbols, and typography. In my world this is reading logo symbols, typography, and brand imagery (including advertising, website design, and other creative branding.)


More interesting to me than how icons communicate, is Haig's description of the design thinking and process employed by Saul Bass's firm. In essence, it was to research, plan, think and verbalize first, prior to any design. (Measure twice; cut once).

The entire piece is well worth reading.