Jef Raskin and human usability

by Michael(tm) Smith

If you credit >Jef Raskin with nothing else, I think you can at least credit him for coming up with what must be the best quote ever about Steve Jobs:

He would have made an excellent King of France.

Though Raskin himself seems to have been known within the Mac team for being a little overzealous in laying claim to ideas (see the I Invented Burrell anecdote over at, it seems like everybody agrees that it was his "computers should make tasks easy for people, not the other way around" vision, and his enthusiasm about the whole "information appliance" concept, that got everything started.

>Andy Hertzfeld has pointed out why it's not really accurate to call Raskin "The Father of the Macintosh". But Hertzfeld did also have this to say:

One of the biggest things I give Jef credit for was putting together the very beginnings of the Mac team with some extraordinary people who didn't necessarily have the credentials, but had everything else to do something great.

Anyway, I wonder if what Raskin left behind at Apple was a lot more important than some people might give him credit for. I think probably the most telling quote from any of the people from the Mac team who were quoted in the press reports about his death was the following one from >Bill Atkinson:

One of the things that Raskin taught me early was that the person was important and the computer wasn't.

Today, that just seems like common sense. But it wasn't at that time. At least you definitely couldn't tell it from the other computers that were available then -- including the Apple II.

If you read about Raskin's personal history, you'll realize that he was obsessed from very early on with the "computers should make tasks easy for people, not the other way around" idea, back when most others didn't think it was too important. In his Master's thesis, published in 1967 (titled, by the way, "The Quick-Draw Graphics System"), he wrote that his work was driven by a philosophy "which demanded generality and human usability over execution speed and efficiency".

I reckon that if you were to have rounded up all the other computer scientists who, in 1967, were writing or even thinking seriously about "human usability" as a primary design goal for computer applications, you could have fit them all in a Volkswagon microbus.