Journal of Design History: The Interface

Review of John Harwood's book on the surprising "inverse effect" computers and corporations, including IBM, had on the theory and practice of design.

harwood_interface coverThe University of Minnesota Press’s promotional materials for John Harwood’s The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976 claim that the book constitutes ‘the first critical history of the industrial design of the computer, of Eliot Noyes’ career, and of some of the most important work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames’. Though some of these claims are a bit exaggerated, Harwood, an associate professor of architectural history at Oberlin College, provides well researched and original accounts of each of these subjects. His book’s four chapters address IBM’s designers, products, buildings, and exhibitions, respectively, with particular attention to the phenomenon of ‘the interface’, which he describes as ‘the hyphen between “man” and “machine”‘ in the 1940s ergonomics catchphrase ‘man-machine system’ (p. 9). His overarching argument is that Noyes’ IBM design team applied the notion of the interface not only to industrially designed products (‘a screen, a keyboard, a sitting surface’), but also to architecture, films, and exhibitions (‘a proscenium, or a curtain wall’ or ‘all of these and more’), and in doing so, ‘elaborated theoretical positions and set standards of practice that quite literally changed the technics of corporate and architectural culture alike’ (p. 8).

Read the full article.

Published in: Jounral of Design History
By: Carma R. Gorman