William Moggridge (1943-2012): Interaction Design Pioneer

By Shlomo Maital


One of the world’s pioneer industrial designers, William Grant (“Bill”) Moggridge, has died.  Moggridge, who was British, became famous when his design company ID Two, located in Palo Alto, CA., acquired GRiD Systems as a client, in 1979.  GRiD Compass was the world’s first laptop computer, in 1981.  It was the first portable computer, that had a display that closed over the keyboard.  It cost $8,000.   GRiD patented the design and licensed it for many years. GRiD made trips on the NASA space shuttle, starting in 1983.   We take this simple design for granted today, but in its time it was a breakthrough. I once owned a Compaq “portable” computer, that weighed 25 pounds and was carried in a suitcase Schwarzenegger would have trouble lifting.  It was a wonderful computer, but very clumsy.  Moggridge solved that.    Moggridge says that when he tested the prototype GRiD in 1981, it was the first time he used a computer. In the digital era, he later said, the computer opened his mind to the idea that design should be more than just beautiful utilitarian objects, but rather should also be about the experience of the user.   Today this is elementary; in his day it was revolutionary.

   In 1991 Moggridge co-founded IDEO, together with David Kelley and Mike Nuttall.  He remained at IDEO until 2010, when he left to become head of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.

   Moggridge pioneered ‘interactions design’.  In his book, Designing Interactions, Chapter 10, he summarizes this approach: 

    Bill Moggridge describes the process of interaction design as it is practiced at IDEO. He believes that if we think first about people and then try, try, and try again to prototype designs, we stand a good chance of creating innovative solutions that people will value and enjoy. He is helped by two of his colleagues in telling a more complete story about understanding people and using prototypes.

    It is so simple.  When designing your innovation, start with people.  Imagine people using it.  Do a prototype.  Let people try it.  Watch them as they use it.