Several weeks ago, I took my two younger sisters, Melanie (16) and Emily (10), to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. This was not something I would have done a few years earlier, except I had acquired a profound appreciation for art and design during my studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Also, my siblings are particularly talented in drawing, so it seemed like an appropriate trip to nurture and stimulate their right brains. It was one of the best days out of all our summers in New York City. We enjoyed the exhibits to the extent that we are still putting together the album from all the photos we took, but little did any of us know that, in the near future, the museum’s amazing director, whom we had just learned of, would be gone.
Bill Moggridge was a British designer, professor and author whose body of work and ideas made him recognized as a highly influential pioneer in the fields of design and technology for decades. His accomplishments were far before my and many of my friends’ and colleagues’ times, but they ultimately affect every aspect of our lives and countless others. This is especially apparent as I type these words of tribute to his life using my personal computer, a Dell Inspiron 1721, since his most well-known achievement was the design of the modern-day laptop.
A portable computer with a foldable flat-panel screen small enough to fit in any corporate executive’s briefcase was an impossible invention, but the most sought after pipe dream. Many portable computers were being developed in the 1980s, such as the first commercially successful, yet short-lived and eponymous Osborne 1. However, thankfully, none of them appear anything like the laptops we are familiar with today because a pioneer in industrial design, Bill Moggridge, discovered early that the crucial components which make up a computer, such as the flat panel screen and keyboard, could be made to fit together. He fought hard for this novel idea: the crazy concept that computers didn’t have to weigh 20lbs or resemble a small fax machine to be effective.
His vision manifested itself into the GRiD Compass laptop computer in 1982. The GRiD Compass, sporting a yellow and black 320 x 240 pixel Sharp flat screen and running on an Intel 8086 processor with 256k of memory, was sleeker and more lightweight than anything which came before. It was arguably the most beautiful and, a quite powerful machine for its time, but, most importantly, its design was user-friendly. Even as computer interfaces have evolved galaxies beyond the world of 1982, laptops still resemble Moggridge’s initial genius basic design. Recently, Time Magazine acknowledged the GRiD Compass as “one of the most clever pieces of engineering in computing history” among many other accolades.
However, the GRiD Compass was just one of many contributions to humanity that Bill Moggridge was destined to give through his innovations and seemingly limitless breadth of knowledge in design and technology. Following the advent of the GRiD Compass, Moggridge worked at Stanford University as an associate professor of design in 1983 and, in 1988, the British Royal Society of Arts awarded him with the “RDI” distinction for his work in product design, a high designation for designers who have “sustained excellence in aesthetic and efficient design for industry.”
As a Stanford professor and later a visiting professor of interaction design at Royal College of Art in London in 1993, Bill Moggidge promoted a field of study he coined as “interaction design,” the study of how humans interact with computers. In 1991, he co-founded the critically acclaimed and highly successful global industrial design consultancy, IDEO, one of the first design firms in the world to integrate the design of software and hardware into the practice of industrial design. This is a concept used everywhere today, but perhaps most well-known by one late serial American entrepreneur who used Newton’s fruit as the brand for one of the biggest and most successful consumer electronics companies in the world.
Indeed, were Steve Jobs alive today, perhaps he would credit Moggridge for laying the brick and mortar for Apple Inc.’s and many others’ successes.
Shortly after, Bill Moggridge served as trustee of the Design Museum in London from 1992-1995. He later authored two books, “Designing Interactions” and “Designing Media” in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Between the two books, Moggridge personally interviewed over 40 contemporary new media titans, designers, culturists and people relevant and contributing substantially to the fields of design, art and technology, such as Mark Zuckerberg, Chad Hurley, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Jimmy Wales, and Craig Newmark all of whom provide additional anchors to the anthology of testaments regarding Moggridge’s dedication to user interface in design and technology.
Moggridge was a tireless advocate for how design impacts people with his actions, hosting events like Connecting ’07, a conference he organized for the Industrial Designers Society of America in San Francisco. Moggridge was honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2009 National Design Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award and later in 2010 in Great Britain with a Prince Philip Designers’ Prize. He was given an honorary doctorate earlier this year by the California College of the Arts.
At age 69, Bill Moggridge died of cancer on Saturday, September 8, 2012 and is survived by his wife, Karin, and two sons, Alex and Erik. May he rest in peace knowing that his contributions to humanity have and will continue to advance our race to great heights beyond anything we ever dreamed of.