events that took place in 1984, in case
you are not old enough to remember
(or are old enough but have forgotten).
Some of these events reveal how we
worked and lived, and others were
important for their impact on design
• Apple Computer placed the
Macintosh personal computer on sale
in January 1984 in the U. S., launching
it with a reference to Orwell’s book.
• Consumers lined up to buy the
first cellular phone, the Motorola
DynaTAC 8000X, as soon as it hit
the market. “The brick” weighed two
pounds, offered just a half-hour of talk
time for every recharging, and sold for
• Philips and Sony introduced the
first commercial CD players. The Sony
Walkman was by now five years old,
the compact cassette 20 years old.
• Hewlett Packard introduced
the first laser printer (HP Laser Jet)
intended for the personal computer
• The Space Shuttle Discovery had
its maiden voyage.
• A French immunologist identified
the AIDS virus.
• William Gibson coined the term
cyberspace in his science fiction novel
• Ghostbusters was the year’s top-grossing film in the U.S.
• TED was born in 1984 out of
Richard Saul Wurman’s observation of
a powerful convergence among three
fields: technology, entertainment, and
design. But it wasn’t online yet.
Human-computer interaction (HCI)
emerged in the early 1980s, initially
as a specialty area in computer science
embracing cognitive science and
human factors engineering.
How did we work? Communication
at work was done either face-to-face,
over the phone (including conference
calls), or through regular mail.
Federal Express was available and
was commonly used in the business
world, with the overnight letter
having been introduced in 1981. The
Internet as we now know it was not
in use in 1984. Commercial Internet
service providers began to emerge
in the late 1980s and early 1990s,
with the World Wide Web entering
the picture in 1989. Most of us
did not yet use computers at work.
Microsoft launched the Windows
operating system in 1987, so word
processing software and spreadsheets
were not yet widely used in 1984.
Secretaries were on staff to type on
word processors what you wrote by
hand on paper. Collaboration was
not the dominant mode of getting
work done; handoffs between people
and departments were much more
Who designed? The design
disciplines were practiced separately
at this point in time, with firms
specializing in domains such as
industrial design, graphic design,
architecture, or interior space design.
Some very preliminary explorations
into interdisciplinary design were just
beginning. Interdisciplinarity in 1984
usually meant that different types of
designers worked with each other—
for example, industrial and graphic
designers collaborating to design
on-product graphics. In Scandinavia,
participatory design had been
explored, but little of this had reached
mainstream design practice.
How did they design, and what
methods did they use? Sketches and
iterative modeling were designers’
main tools, although this varied by
domain. For example, in the early
conceptual stages of design, sketches
were used by industrial designers,
In the 1980s, innovation was usually in
the hands of the client and tended to be
technology- or market-driven.
THE WORD DESIGN CONSIDERED HARMFUL
Discussions about design can easily get confusing because the noun design is loaded
with different meanings and connotations. Here are a few of its definitions.
Meaning… As in… Such as…
The result Design expo That which is realized in the world, e.g., product, service, experience,
Designing (as an activity) Design process Activities of creation, exploration, development, performed
by an increasingly diverse range of participants
Designers (design professionals) Design should lead innovation Designer often refers either to professionals (possibly with a specific
education and/or work experience) or to people who perform specific
roles in the design activities.
Design community Design changes the world A phenomenon of many stakeholders, notably designers but
also policymakers, interacting in society
Design intention Done by design Common usage, indicating there is an intention rather than a
Styling Designer jeans Aesthetic qualities typically added to distinguish a product
from the competition
→ In this article we use the term design to denote the activity of doing design.