Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum are no strangers to exhibiting information technology (IT) items and computers, as their permanent exhibition,Cyberworld proves. This collection has been joined by a temporary exhibition,Interface: People, Machines, Design. The latter looks at how computers and other IT products have been designed. It’s interesting to see how a handful of companies made complicated technology both easy-to-use and appealing to everyone.

The exhibition is a small one that shows part of the Museum’s collection (including newly acquired pieces) as well as other priceless things that are on loan from various sources. It is divided into three parts: enthusiast, professional and consumer. These are the three phases of technology adoption- from a niche group of experts who are interested in new things to the adoption of products within industries as a standard and finally to everyday products embraced by everyone. The exhibition looks at how the visionaries from companies like Apple, Braun, Olivetti and others were influenced by early design pioneers and artists in creating their own inventions/works of art.

After World War II, Dieter Rams wanted to make his designs at Braun mobile, accessible, simple and affordable. Quite a few examples of his work are shown here, including: a radio receiver and radio. The next important group of people were the ones working at Olivetti, a family-owned company who saw design as a question of substance, not just form. Apple designer, Ken Campbell once said that the late Steve Jobs not only strove to be the best in the computer industry, but that he also wanted Apple to be in the eighties what Olivetti had been in the seventies, the undisputed leader in industrial design.

Olivetti’s designers would be involved in futurism (part of the avant-garde movement) and they embraced new materials and celebrated modernity. Their typewriter design prevails to this day because the standard is the QWERTY keyboard (designed so that the typebars wouldn’t jam). The company also designed early desktop computers like the Programma 101, which is part of the exhibition. This computer was modelled on a desk-top calculator and sold well thanks to its ease-of-use and robust construction.

The seeds of modern technology were sewn once the mouse was designed byDoug Engelbart in the late sixties and graphical user interfaces were designed by Xerox PARC in the early seventies. When Steve Jobs saw these inventions he imagined that this could make non-computer users interact with a computer. His first invention with Steve Wozniak, the Blue Box (which allows the user to make free telephone calls) is exhibited here, as well as an Apple 1 (this is one of less than 50 surviving models) and a video about Jobs and Apple.

The Apple iPod is also shown and described in detail. Its designer, Sir Jonathan Ive was influenced by Dieter Rams’design of the T3 transistor radio for Braun. Rams was the Chief Designer at Braun from 1965-1995. Both of these objects are well-ordered and show both a harmony and economy of form. It’s a similar principle that was offered in Jobs’ final invention, the iPad.

Interface: People, Machines, Design is a short but fascinating look at how information technology has evolved from a world where computers were used by specialised people in certain areas to become an essential, everyday commodity. This exhibition shows that while computers may be a modern phenomenon, the brilliant ideas behind it were all influenced by the great designs that had preceded them. It is also through this intelligent design that the rates of adoption increased meaning computers are used by everyone, not just specialists and enthusiasts. This exhibition is a good one and essential viewing for anyone interested in computers, design and how these two disciplines have influenced contemporary life.


Originally published on 19 August 2014 at the following website:

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