Jef Raskin on his pre-Apple Work

Source: Interview with Jef Raskin, 13 April 2000.

Experience at Xerox PARC

Pang: I want to begin by asking about the state of human-computer interaction at the time the Macintosh project got underway in 1979. Can you give me a sense of what the state of the field was at the time-- what people would have looked to as important exemplars, problems, and where Xerox PARC's work fit in?

Raskin: I'd have to go back and review magazines and books of the time to really remember. I find it very hard to remember what the state of anything was at any point in history--

Pang: Fair enough--

Raskin: -- but most of the work I knew about was being done at PARC, but from early 1978 onward I had stayed away from there because I had joined Apple, and it seemed unethical to continue to participate there. There wasn't a whole lot known about interaction design at the time; it wasn't even a recognized field at that point. If you said you were a user interface specialist, you wouldn't have been understood. And certainly in the computer industry, it was a totally unknown concept: you just didn't worry about that. The idea of building a whole computer system starting with the user interface and working from there was completely alien, at least in the personal computer industry. Of course, at PARC they'd built the Altos and other machines, which were built to support a user interface. Before PARC, in my master's thesis, I argued that we should be designing machines from the interface out-- there was just a sentence or two, but it was in there! In fact, my advisor recommended that I not talk about that because it wasn't "really" computer science.

So it was a pretty radical idea then. Now, I go to a congress Holland and there are 600 people who've flown from all over for a conference on user interface. Things have changed somewhat.

Pang: What was your relationship with PARC prior to joining Apple?

Raskin: It was not a formal relationship at any point. I had been a visiting scholar at Stanford University in their Artificial Intelligence Lab, starting in 1972 and then again in 1973, when I was a professor at the University of California at San Diego. The people at the AI lab were tightly intermixed with the people at PARC: people just flowed back and forth along Arastadero Road from one to the other. That was pretty much standard operating procedure. In fact, just the other night I spent a couple hours with Elisabeth Paté-Cornell, who's head of the new Management Science and Engineering department at Stanford, and she was telling me about how she was at PARC in those days, though we didn't know each other then. She was at both the AI Lab and PARC, so there were a lot of people doing it.

Music and PARC

I had a lot of musical friends over at PARC, and one of the bigger links was not as much CS-- although that was important-- but musical. For example, there was my very good friend Doug Wyatt, who's sung with Chanticleer, and who I've performed with many many times, and it was the musical Stanford connection as much as the other that was strong. Brian Howard, who I was later to hire at Apple, was a brilliant player on the cornetto, a Renaissance instrument, and on recorders. Doug married Maureen Stone, an oboist, and I don't know how many times we've all played together.

Pang: What do you play?

Raskin: I play keyboards and recorders. You've looked at my Web site? In the musical section there's a picture of a pipe organ. You have to be pretty crazy to have a pipe organ at home. Of course, Alan Kay has one, and Donald Knuth has one, so it seems to be a professional hazard.


Document created on 6 June 2000;