Make it New | Barry M. Katz

Summary of: Make it New: A History of Silicon Valley Design
By: Barry M. Katz


Welcome to the fascinating world of Silicon Valley design as told in ‘Make it New: A History of Silicon Valley Design’ by Barry M. Katz. This insightful book takes you on a journey through the world of design’s evolution – from the days when it was an afterthought in product development to its vital role in shaping the success of today’s tech giants. Explore how design gradually gained importance in the tech industry with trailblazers like Hewlett-Packard and Apple leading the way. Discover how the rise of the personal computer and Silicon Valley’s unique design culture helped bring technology closer to end consumers, changing not only product design but the world as well.

The Emergence of Design in Silicon Valley

Since the early days of Silicon Valley, the role of design in tech product development was not always considered a crucial aspect. Engineers were mainly concerned with making products work, while design remained a mere add-on. However, in 1951, Hewlett-Packard made a significant breakthrough by hiring Carl Clement as the first professional designer. Clement and his nine-person team had to prove that design could add quantifiable worth to products, which they achieved with HP’s instruments. The team’s design not only improved the appearance and performance of the equipment but also helped HP manufacture it more quickly and efficiently while conserving storage space and reducing shipping costs. Despite being low in the product development hierarchy, designers persisted in their efforts to make products useful for nontechnical consumers by enhancing their form and function. The 1973 HP-35 handheld calculator was the first successful product that emerged from such an approach, and it foreshadowed the impact of design in the eventual broad consumer audience for Silicon Valley technologies.

The Evolution of Personal Computers

The development of personal computers revolutionized the tech industry, blurring the line between research and consumer markets. Starting with Xerox’s PARC research facility and culminating in GVO Design Group’s groundbreaking innovations, personal computing technology underwent incredible technical and design breakthroughs. DesignLabs, owned by Carl Clement, was instrumental in creating the first personal computer, designed for user interaction and ease. This marked a turning point for Silicon Valley designers, who shifted their focus to aligning engineering with the consumer tech market, generating product opportunities that could not be realized by scientists and engineers alone. The emergence of laptops, such as the first independent computer notebook developed by British designer Bill Moggridge’s GRiD Systems design team, further illuminated the evolution of personal computing.

The Evolution of Design in Silicon Valley

The once-held perceptions about the role of design in Silicon Valley began to shift with the next generation of designers. The emergence of design conferences and institutions contributed to Silicon Valley’s changing perspective on design’s purpose and possibilities, extending beyond product design.

The Power of Design in Silicon Valley

The book showcases how design was the backbone of Apple Inc.’s growth story championed by Steve Jobs, arguing that no man or company understood the potential of this relationship better than Jobs. It cites how he wished to create a computer that people didn’t have to build and house in a case and how historic Apple IIc computer’s design emerged from these goals. The book also credits Jobs for prioritizing the design of Apple itself as a company and its image and brand. The venture ultimately opened the door to intersections of technology and design that still define Silicon Valley.

The Rise of Design in Technology

In the 80s and 90s, designers played an increasingly important role in the tech industry, creating solutions for interactive video games, educational software, and telepresence surgical equipment. With no previous models to draw from, designers had to invent new approaches and methods. Design firms like Lunar were hired to create usable test models for groundbreaking technologies. As technology matured, research and product development became increasingly user-oriented, with designers focusing on creating human-centric digital experiences through interaction design. Steve Jobs is also highlighted for having a complete design mindset in his approach to creating products. Designers worked on meshing various pieces of tech into a visually integrated suite. The book suggests that once the concept of a desktop computer was created, it was necessary to adapt it to the realities of the market. Overall, design played a key role in making existing technologies more functional and creating innovative solutions for new products.

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