Home' Technology Review : May June 2007 Contents 10 FROM THE EDITOR
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
From the Editor
On Beautiful Machines
Well-designed technologies are minimally complicated
Iam writing this column on my new 17-inch Apple
MacBook Pro---and oh, man, it s a beautiful machine.
I have owned this model of computer before. I used
my old MacBook Pro until the other day; but sadly, for-
eign travel dented its aluminum casing, dulled all its sur-
faces with dust and oil, and reduced its screen to ickering
fog---and as it ceased to be new, I became insensible to
its virtues. But this machine is box-fresh, and novelty has
rekindled my crush. (You can see my actual laptop on
page 43, where its design is praised as iconic.)
I love my MacBook Pro because its broad but slim body
seems luxuriously solid yet also gracefully light. I love how
the resistance subtly increases when I press a key, atter-
ing my touch. I love the crisp de nition of the graphics on
its large, luminous screen. Most of all, I love how all my
Macintosh software shares an elegant iconography and
navigation scheme, and how all my Apple hardware works
together uncomplainingly. The 17-inch MacBook Pro, in
the famous phrase of Steve Jobs, Apple s founder and chief
executive, is "insanely great."
The software application I am using is Microsoft Word.
It is not beautiful. Above this document is a toolbar with
more than 30 icons, many of whose meanings escape me.
Above the toolbar are 12 pull-down menus, each with
countless functions, and although I have been using Word
as my principal professional tool for more than 13 years,
I still don t know which functions can be found in which
menus, because there are too many functions, arranged
with too little logic. Everywhere, there are pullulating fea-
tures, obscure jargon, and confusing organization.
What makes a machine beautiful? In this issue of Tech-
nology Review, we ask what makes for good industrial
and interactive design in technology products. Editing
these stories, and thinking about artifacts as di erent as
the MacBook Pro and Word, has suggested some tentative
answers to me.
One common answer is that technology design should
be simple. Certainly, thoughtful designers disdain "fea-
ture bloat," in which business managers add more and
more features to products in order to appeal to more mar-
kets. In "Di erent" (p. 54), Daniel Turner s account of
why Apple s products are so reliably well designed, Don
Norman, who was vice president of advanced technology
at Apple, says feature bloat is di cult to resist: "The hard-
est part of design ... is keeping features out." But keeping it
simple can create the Palm, the BlackBerry, or the iPod.
Still, simplicity seems an insu cient explanation for
good design. It s easier for some machines than others to
be simple, because they have fewer functions. The Palm,
BlackBerry, and iPod have beautiful designs, but they do
only a few simple things, and their beauty was less labori-
ously achieved than that of the MacBook Pro, which allows
its users to perform a wonderful variety of di cult tasks.
The truth, perhaps, is that well-designed machines,
whether they have few or many functions, should be mini-
mally complicated. That is, they should have no more
functions than is reasonable given their form; every func-
tion should be no more complicated than it needs to be;
and the way each function works should be intuitively easy
to understand. As Albert Einstein may have said, "Make
things as simple as possible, but not simpler."
For example, a well-designed multifunction mobile
device like the Helio Ocean (whose conception, design,
and development David Talbot describes in "Soul of a
New Mobile Machine" on page 46) is complicated insofar
as it can be used for talking and messaging, gaming and
Web searching, social and geo-computing. But all these
functions are socially and contextually appropriate. Indi-
vidual functions---say, e-mail---have been stripped of fea-
tures that would feel frustratingly extraneous on a small
screen; and anyone could straightaway use the device who
had never seen it before.
By contrast, Word is badly designed not because it is
complicated but because it is needlessly complicated.
Our design issue describes a few other characteristics of
good technology design: it generally derives from collabo-
ration among people in diverse elds, who are nonethe-
less subject to the focus and discipline of a tasteful despot
like Steve Jobs; at its best, it is genuinely innovative, push-
ing manufacturers and engineers to develop new processes
and techniques; and so on.
All of this matters because technology, which was at
rst the hobby of enthusiasts and then the property of pro-
fessionals, is today used by billions in their daily lives. The
further triumph of technology depends on good design.
When a technology becomes a consumer product, says Bill
Moggridge, a cofounder of Ideo and designer of the GRiD
Compass, the rst laptop computer (see Q&A, p. 30), "it s
completely essential for success that the thing is enjoyable
to use and easy to learn. It fails unless it is."
Write to me and tell me what you think good design is
at email@example.com. Jason Pontin
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