Steve Jobs: Mac OS, designed by a bunch of amateurs

Designing Interactions is Bill Moggridge’s collection of interviews with the people behind great product designs.

One of those interviewed is Cordell Ratzlaff, senior designer at Apple for five years. Prior to OS X, Apple was an engineering driven company. Steve Jobs turned it around into a design driven company. That change; designing for the user experience, not for engineering expediency, is directly reflected in Jobs-era products such as OS X and iPod.

Interview with Cordell Ratzlaff

Cordell:
We were sitting in [Jobs’] boardroom, and he comes in, late as usual, and the first words out of his mouth were, “You guys designed Mac OS [8], huh?”

I said, “Yeah, we did that.”

”I’ve got to tell you, you’re a bunch of amateurs!”

For twenty minutes he just railed on about how bad the Macintosh human interface was and how we were idiots for designing it that way.

Steve hadn’t seen the new work that we had done, so we started talking about some of the ideas that we had come up with, and we were able to turn that conversation around into something more productive. We discussed what was broken in the current human interface and what we could do to fix it. About halfway through that meeting, I thought “Well, he wouldn’t be wasting his time talking to us about this if he was going to fire us, so I guess we still have our jobs!”

At the end Steve said, “Why don’t you guys work on these things? Come back in a couple of weeks and let’s see what you’ve got.”

The next few weeks we worked night and day, building prototypes and fleshing out design ideas. We spent an entire afternoon showing them to Steve, and he was blown away by what he saw. From that point on there was never any debate that we were going to put a new human interface on top of Max OS X.

Cordell goes on to say:

We did the design first. We focused on what we thought people would need and want, and how they would interact with their computer. We made sure we got that right, and then we went and figured out how to achieve it technically…We ended up doing a lot of things that we initially thought were impossible, or would take a long time to do. It was great because we were applying a lot of creativity and ingenuity on the design side and then pushing the engineers to use the same kind of creativity and innovation to make that happen.

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Design For Users

Because we are designing for users first, readers of the Making of a Web App series will see a dozen articles before the first programming article is written.