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A Great Reminder To All Technology Designers, From Apple In 1985

Perhaps the key to all design is to always remember that humans need to be kind to other humans.

A Great Reminder To All Technology Designers, From Apple In 1985
[Image: Apple Inc./courtesy DigiBarn Computer Musueum]

This is a message from 1985 Apple to technology designers everywhere, including those at Apple in 2018. A message contained on page 14 of the introduction to a pre-release version of Apple II Human Interface Guidelines that is very important to remember today.

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[Image: Apple Inc./courtesy DigiBarn Computer Musueum]

Back then, this paragraph–tweeted by Unity Labs’ director of extended reality authoring Timoni West–was about making new computer users feel comfortable with a program, helping them overcome their potential resistance to embrace it. Some of it may feel outdated today, but the first line feels to me more relevant than ever before. To see it clearly, just replace a couple of words:

You must remember that you are dealing with a human being and tailor your [new technology] to deal gently with the kind of fears and anxieties that the very existence of your [invention] may provoke.

It’s a great reminder, at a time when so many people feel dizzied by the exponential advances of science and technology–from body implants that will turn some into super-humans and AI systems that can evolve on their own to the first colonies on Mars and nanobots that can beat death. Even scientists and technologists themselves feel overwhelmed by the pace of change.

That’s why those who make our world need to think about the design of every new and future technology. Not just about how humans interact with the hardware and software that shape their inventions, but about their very intent, their purpose, and the impact on humanity as a whole.

I don’t know who the author of that line is. Most likely, according to the document versioning index, it was Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini, the Apple human interface expert who published the first version of this document on September 15, 1978, and signed most of its updates (and who has since been critical of Apple’s HCI). It doesn’t matter. To whoever the author was, thank you. And to whoever is reading this, if you have a great idea that will affect someone’s life, remember these words of wisdom the next time you take to the drawing board.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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