Today is the Apple Macintosh’s 25th birthday. Time flies doesn’t it? I owe a lot in life to this little machine.
I first met the Macintosh in March of 1984. I was a Junior at Texas Tech University, studying Graphic & Package Design under Frank Cheatham. My Production class went to a computer store to have a look at one and get a demonstration. I can distinctly remember being impressed with the graphic capabilities of the machine and the quantum leap in the user interface from all other computer systems I’d seen before. My good friend and previous roommate was a Computer Science major, who built systems in our dorm room, so I was very familiar with computers, though not much of a user then. My other strong memory from that day was turning to a classmate and saying:
“When this thing gets “real” fonts, it will take off.”
I was referring of course to the early bitmapped “city name” (Monaco, Chicago, Geneva, etc) fonts that shipped with the Macintosh. “Real” fonts are just that, real. Typography that has been created and refined by masters over hundreds of years. Back when I went to school we had to learn to render typefaces by hand and I could write freehand in Garamond, Baskerville, Franklin, Helvetica, Century Schoolbook, and many other traditional fonts. Being able to just bang out a perfect typeface on a screen was a dream of every designer back then.
Well, either I was perceptive, or prophetic because not long after my graduation and entrance into the professional world Aldus shipped PageMaker, Adobe shipped PostScript and broke open the world of “real” fonts … on the Macintosh. I was present at the birth of “desktop publishing” as I was a young designer working in Seattle at the time, and all the “old guys” (as I called people my age back then) were terrified of computers and expected us kids to do all the technological heavy lifting. I learned everything I could about computers, software, networks, etc. Within a few years I was managing systems instead of designing things. By 1991 I was no longer a Graphic Designer, I was an IT guy. My design education has served me well however as the entire purpose of design, at least how it was taught to me, was the communication of complex concepts in visual/verbal form. Frank Cheatham insisted that we had to be able to EXPLAIN why we made the design choices we did. They had to make sense, otherwise, as he often said, “it was just decoration.” From that education I learned how to explain complex technology to non-technical people. I have also been able to explain non-technical things to technical people. (I’m a English-Geek translator.) This has allowed me to very successfully manage a class of people that many believe are unmanageable, “IT guys”.
I did my last professional graphic design job in 1994, designing the corporate identity of the company started by a friend of mine… a network geek I met “online” several years before on a Mac-focussed BBS. He was running the network at a local college, while I was running one at a department store‘s in-house Advertising agency. The company he started? digital.forest. That’s right, the company I joined six years later. Before that though my career took me to a publishing company headquartered in London. Along the way I learned UNIX (to manage Sun Sparcservers that ran The Bon’s OPI system), learned multi-protocol networking, people management, budget management, project management, etc. At The Bon I was telling “old white guys in ties” about this new thing called the Internet. I built my first DNS & web servers in 1995. Launched a web company of my own in 1998, and sold it in 2000.
If it were not for this little machine with a 9″ screen I’d still be drawing typefaces while designing things on paper. In a lot of ways I owe my whole professional career and adult life to this little computer from Cupertino. It changed my world. Changed my profession. Changed my career. Changed my life in some very profound ways. It even introduced me to most of my friends. It has been a very interesting 25 years. Happy Birthday Macintosh. I’ll drink a toast to you tonight.