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Bill Moggridge, GRiD Compass Designer, Dies 29

Posted by samzenpus
from the fare-thee-well dept.
judgecorp writes "Bill Moggridge, the British-born designer of the first laptop computer has died aged 69. The GRiD Compass was a computing landmark, designed to meet a US government request for a briefcase-sized computer, and first sold for $8000 in 1982. The GRiD compass was used widely, and taken into orbit on the Space Shuttle. It embodied industrial design principles and paved the way for subsequent laptops and devices. Moggridge's company ID Two, later IDEO, also designed the Palm V."
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Bill Moggridge, GRiD Compass Designer, Dies

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  • by TWX (665546) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:55AM (#41287735)
    ...as Mr. Moggridge understood both the value of good physical design and came to understand the value of good user interface design as well as the need for the product to work properly under the hood.

    In a recent documentary he described how much time and effort went into the case form factor, the keyboard positioning, the screen, even a foreign object ejection system to kick pens and other devices out of the hinge if they fell in, and how once he finally got a finished product and started playing with it, how the software experience totally trumped the physical experience. Granted, had the physical experience been negative then it's probably safe to say that this would have been noticed, but it seems that in this case, the poor software interface negated most of what he achieved with the hardware.

    My wife's laptop is a Lenovo Thinkpad X301, which for me is just about the pinnacle of laptop design. It has a good size screen, the keyboard feels right, it packs in an optical drive and connectors, and its battery doesn't protrude, but it only weighs 2.9lb. The case has that ruggedized feel that formerly-IBM Thinkpads had, and it's traveled overseas with us as a very welcome tool. She'll often take it instead of a work-issued Toshiba when she travels for work if she doesn't have to do anything sensitive it's that good.

    It doesn't seem like companies want to give us that kind of product anymore. There is no true successor to the X301, and it feels like the last vestiges of IBM's design are essentially gone now.
    • by rilister (316428)

      You're right: the summary dramatically undersells what Bill Moggridge achieved: he was a passionate believer that the experience of a product was the true definition of success (not the look or even the functionality), and that only you could only design great products by deeply understanding your users. Essentially, he took design out of the hands of the 'high-priests' of taste and aesthetics, and put the power back in the hands of the users.

      This drove him to co-found IDEO (full disclosure - I'm an ex-empl

      • Essentially, he took design out of the hands of the 'high-priests' of taste and aesthetics, and put the power back in the hands of the users.

        Fortunately, Steve Jobs soon put a stop to *that*.

        • by rilister (316428)

          ;) +1 insightful!
          Not entirely true, though: people like Karim Rashid and Philippe Starck are the real high-priests. SJ did believe that the user experience wins over everything else - it's just he also believed in polling a user-group of precisely 1 person.

    • I believe the documentary you mention is Objectified [objectifiedfilm.com].
  • by jjohn (2991) on Monday September 10, 2012 @10:06AM (#41287843) Homepage Journal

    You can see Bill in the documentary film Objectified, which is about industrial design. Really, it's a must see for folks who read this site.

    http://www.objectifiedfilm.com/ [objectifiedfilm.com]

  • Your clamshell design changed portable computing. I remember the days when the portable Osborne I and the Kaypro had their keyboards in the lid and were like carrying a sewing machine around the airport. Even my first non-CPM computer, the Compaq portable used the keyboard as a lid but thanks to the plasma screen it was more like carrying a heavy lunchbox.

    When portables based on the Grid Compass design began to appear, I upgraded to a heavy ass MS-DOS portable with a bluish LCD (forgot the brand) and it lo

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When I first got out of college I worked with a company putting the GRiD Compass into the hands of GIs of the 9th ID. I was seriously impressed with the form factor and the software. The forms and menus-based user interface was perfect for working with GIs. The OS was also light-years ahead of anything in the PC market: it included full multi-tasking.

    Two things still stick in my mind almost 30 year later: "elbow-minus" (the CTRL-ATL-DEL equivalent on the compass) and the data structure underlying the for

    • by drakaan (688386)
      I worked with them on the other side of the equation (a maintenance guy for certain systems, including a couple that used the GRiD). What I remember about them was primarily that the didn't break. Locked down on a tray in the back of a truck on a shelter with a few hundred other boxes of electronics that occasionally needed replacement...I don't think we ever replaced one of them. Aside from the Commodore SX-64 (I still want one of those, if anyone has one they need to get rid of), it was the first porta
  • When these came out my company made avionics testers, the GRID was used to drive them. For about 6 months sales went gangbusters to the Navy and Air Force, then died down. A sales guy went to Edwards AFB to see why, and saw a bunch of our testers in a cabinet but no laptops.

    Turned out the officers all wanted laptops, but they couldn't buy them. $40,000 avionics testers, on the other hand, .......

  • by benbean (8595)

    Jesus, a man who made a significant contribution to computing dies and it descends into a patent/Apple flame-fest.

    I despair of Slashdot 2012.

    Thank you to those of you making interesting and insightful comments, and thank you Bill.

  • I worked at GRiD in the early 1990s as an intern while in college. A short 3:35 documentary with Bill Moggridge can be found here [youtube.com]. Another good 90 minute documentary can also be found: Pioneering the Laptop - The GRiD Compass [youtube.com]. GRiD was a great place to work when I was there. At that time they were doing a lot of work on tablet computers and handwriting recognition.

    Many of the people there came from Xerox PARC. The GRiD Compass software was well ahead of its time. It was a multi-tasking operating system with

    • by AaronW (33736)

      Sorry to follow up to my own post, but a tribute to Bill Moggridge can be found here [youtube.com].

  • I fell into CS by accident. My first job out of the Army was to perform analysis and studies for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the Army Reserves misplaced my file and could not confirm my clearances. While I was being recleared, to keep me off overhead I was put on a project that was developing computer systems for tactical units. In November 1982 I was given one of the first GiRDs and told to "think of how you would use this if you were back in the infantry." Shortly after that I was learning SQL and Pasc

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