When Apple introduced the Macintosh in 1984, it was the dawn of an era. Personal computers have grown tremendously. The World Wide Web is born. Screens will soon begin to take over human lives – the original precursor to the always-on Zoom to-Zoom world we live in today.
Men, especially those named Steve and Bill, are widely recognized for heralded this modern information technology era. But behind the scenes, at technology and design companies around the world, the look and feel of those screens is defined by the lesser-known graphic designers who created the windows. , dialog boxes and icons are considered obvious today.
For example, Susan Kare created original icons, graphic elements, and fonts for Macintosh: the smiling Mac, the trash can, the system error bomb. And even though the industry is predominantly male, she has many female friends – among them Loretta Staples, a San Francisco-based interface designer.
For seven years, she has been dreaming of interactive experiences meant to delight and delight end users. It was long before “design thinking” became the gossip of Silicon Valley, before her domain was renamed to UI. When she started, the field was so young that most software didn’t exist.
“It’s really fun,” Ms. Staples said on a Zoom call in December. “You have to put everything together and decorate your own tools and crafting.”
Now 67 years old, living in Connecticut and working as a therapist (fifth stage of her professional life), she sees those years as a process of formation, not only for creativity but also for the world. lady.
Staples grew up in the late 60s reading The Village Voice at a military base in Kentucky, dreaming of life in the northeast. But after completing her studies in art history at Yale and graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design, she began to question what she saw as regional values.
One of her professors, Inge Druckrey, is recognized for bringing Swiss Modernism to American schools. Also known as International Style, it is visually defined by hard grids and sans serif typeface. Designer means “invisible”. New York City’s subway signs and Volkswagen’s “Lemon” ads are prime examples of its expression in American culture.
Staples appreciated the visual authority and logic behind this school of thought but found its fundamental neutrality confusing. “I here, first generation, middle class, half black, half Japanese, have never gone to college and somehow, strangely ended up at Yale,” she said. . “What the hell does all of this have to do with ‘where am I from,’ no matter what the hell?”
She also found that organizations in the northeast do not like digital tools that are rapidly evolving. “When did the East Coast become so important, I kept scratching my head,” Ms. Staples said. “.
So in 1988, she responded to a newspaper ad for Understand Enterprise, or TUB, a design studio in San Francisco run by Richard Saul Wurman, a famous graphic designer today. creating TED conferences. At the time, TUB was one of the largest studios focusing on Macintosh computers.
Ms. Staples taught herself how to use the beta version of Adobe Photoshop and other new tools let her design for interactivity. Since the field is still in its infancy, she often “mixes” different programs together to achieve the desired effect.
“In some ways, it’s a more diverse world,” she said. “That’s not this kind of unified, universal World Wide Web browser application.”
UI and U dot I
Ms. Staples became a full-time interface designer in 1989. She worked for famous designer Clement Mok, briefly under John Sculley’s leadership at Apple, then opened her own studio, U dot I, in 1992.
Maria Giudice, who worked with Ms. Staples at TUB and is still a friend, said: “We take it for granted because UI is such a big, big problem right now. “But she’s one of the few people who actually work in that space.”
The interface design is full of thoughtful little enhancements and magic touches, such as hovering the pointer over a blurred object to bring it into focus. “I know that may not seem like much right now, but at the time it took a lot of time to make it happen,” said Staples.
Icons, though limited to a meager series of chunky pixels, are also a place for customization. Using ResEdit, a programmer’s software, she once created an icon of a porcelain coffee cup with a little donut nestled into it. “It even had a bit of a sheen,” she said.
Her clients in the 90s included AT&T, the Smithsonian Institution, Sony and Paramount / Viacom, where she helped create the design for an interactive TV prototype (the precursor to online TV in many ways). .
Meanwhile, the World Wide Web is exploding. “For me, the Internet is the beginning of the end,” Staples said. When she started working as an interface designer six years ago, the graphical user interface was not widely understood; now hundreds of websites are popping up and people are surfing the net. Things are becoming more and more standardized, commercialized, crowded and boring.
A designer for life
In a letter to her editor published in both Adbusters, an active magazine and Emigre, a graphic design magazine, Ms. Staples described the reworking of a progressive political publication that was expressive design – in stark contrast to the view of her growing world identity in her own field at the turn of the millennium.
“I have been programmed visually to react to graphic conventions in a predictable way,” she writes. “Could it be that graphic design has fewer solutions and more problems?”
“I feel like I’ve recognized design as a particular kind of cultural practice that I don’t want to practice anymore,” says Ms. Staples.
After exiting, she cycled rapidly through occupations: design educator (her essays, which document the pivotal era of digital design, are still used in day classes). present), art artist, online business consultant. In 2000, she moved from Michigan, where she was teaching design, to New York City, discarding a basement’s valuable work documentation in the process.
“In the end I’m not an archivist,” she said. “Everything comes and goes, and that’s how my life used to be.” Her website, however, contains a bunch of artifacts from her early professional life: 12 pictures of her designs, plus student homework and classroom syllabus. she taught.
Looking back at the past, Ms. Staples says she once found herself a culture critic disguised as a designer; She is now a culture critic disguised as a therapist – someone who has spent the past year working exclusively on videoconferencing.
“It’s weird to have the option to control the view,” she said. “Not everyone is looking at the same thing.”
“She’s still thinking like a designer,” Ms. Giudice said, “just apply it in a different way.”