Jef Raskin on the Mac Graphical User Interface

Source: Interview with Jef Raskin, 13 April 2000.

Pang: Could say something about your ideas for the Mac's user interface? There's been some misunderstanding about whether you imagined it to be graphical, and whether graphics were going to be an important part of this machine.

Raskin: Graphics were always a very important part of it for me. My thesis was on computer graphics. On the Macintosh, the dreams I had about what I wanted to do on it all involved graphics. I wanted to be able to compose music on it, I wanted it to be able to handle musical notation, I wanted it to be able to handle pictures and photographs. In fact, that was one of the arguments I used when they wanted to have more pixels horizontally than vertically, which was common at the time, characters would show up, and I argued that we have to have square pixels. They said, "Why do we need square pixels?" I said, "What if you take a photograph and rotate it ninety degrees, do you want it to suddenly change the way it looks?" And people would say, "Photograph?? Ninety degrees??" So yeah, I was thinking about graphics at the time.

Because I didn't prefer the mouse-- I preferred trackballs and tablets to the mouse, and I had experimental evidence favoring those devices-- people have taken that to mean I didn't want to have a graphic input device, which I considered absolutely essential. But I also thought it was smart not to force people to use the graphic input device unnecessarily. Bill Atkinson had a different dream, which was to do everything graphically, and never touch the keyboard, which is, unfortunately, impossible. In my scheme you'd use the graphic input device when you need graphics, and otherwise you'd use the keyboard, which is how I was designing it. After I left that was largely thrown out, and it became this thing-- I call it a "hand to mouse existence"-- where you move back and forth [demonstrates] much too much.

I was not really pleased with the way the Mac came out in terms of ease of use. I was certainly pleased with the attractive appearance of the interface, but in terms of usability it was far inferior-- though one can only guess-- to what would have come out had I been left in charge of the project. Would it have sold as well, or better? We'll never know. I can't answer that question. But it certainly would have been easier to use. But as such, even with what I considered some downgrading of the quality of the interface, it was still far better than anything else out there at the time. I figure that even if I had done no more than orient Apple and the Macintosh project to being user interface-oriented, rather than hardware oriented, that would have been a significant achievement. That some of the actual widgets and things that I designed also got through is nice, too.


Document created on 6 June 2000;