iMac and the design of the internet era

25 years ago, Domus presented a new personal computer destined not only to reposition Apple as a brand, but also to redefine the experiential and aesthetic paradigms of design in an era of smart, connected objects.

The turn of the millennium was the time for a great global technological turning point, especially the time when this turning point was collectively perceived in its reality and not only because of its consequences: it was the “internet era”, the era of digital-driven “new economy”, of collective terrors related to the unknown component of the digital itself, such as the Millennium Bug.

But it was also the time when entire paradigms of design were being rewritten: objects were now smart, they established emotional – even before being functional – relationships with the, their aesthetic was the child of such emotionality and emphasized the accessibility of technology, between transparencies, colors and materialities that straddled the line between solid and liquid, translucent and opaque. It was there that Apple resumed its position as a great forerunner and indicator of future paths, after the years of a Microsoft-led progress that had made the latter company almost an industry monopolist. In 1998, even before the iPod, came the real game changer, progenitor of the new Apple philosophy, designed by Jonathan Ive: the iMac, the colorful, transparent all-in-one – the first without a floppy disk drive – destined to become an instant icon: “the computer of the Internet age”, which Domus published in October of that year, on issue 808.

Domus 808, October 1998

iMac, the pc of the internet age

Some fifteen years after having sparked the information technology revolution on a domestic scale, Apple has chosen to go back to its origins with a personal presented as the computer of the Internet generation.

The iMac’s status as a computer dedicated to Internet clarifies its name without more ado (the i stands for “the net of nets”). By alluding to its Macintosh forbear, this personal adopts an integrated conception of all its components (monitor and modem included). But its egg shape, and the bold use of a semi-transparent coloured plastic monobody, express a ‘radical’ vision that heralds a new approach to “intelligent objects” earmarked for other developments.

Domus 808, October 1998

Indeed, far beyond its indubitably high performance (modem speed, processor frequency, innovation/price ratio), beyond the logic of a market operation (to recapture a consumer belt with a reasonably priced personal at around one thousand dollars) conducted by a corporation emerging from years of stiff competition (in particular with Microsoft, the information technology colossus under a monopoly cloud, which on the “object oriented” system promoted by Makintosh built the fortune of its operating systems such as Window ‘95); beyond the fact that this product marks the return of Steven Jobs to the helm, and that it was born under the star of an understanding with Microsoft: beyond all this, iMac, destined to brush up the lustre of the Makintosh myth, ushers in new air to be breathed in Silicon Valley, the veritable informatics propagation power plant, whose myth Apple helps to keep alive.

iMac presents itself as a realistic product (with that extra pinch of innovation attainable from what’s available on the market). In reality, though, it offers an updated version of the personal computer concept by those who may be said to have invented it. This is true, above all, in an era in which online connections, increasingly indispensable now, seem to demand new tools and easier use.

Domus 808, October 1998

One is struck by the maniacal care with which every smallest detail has been put through the project sieve, to join a global idea of communication (from the design of the inside which can be seen through the surfaces, to the shades of colour, the textures of the stiffening ribs on the plastic body, the labels, the packaging system… ). In this key, the choice of transparent plastic and colour seems also to be involved in a demystification of the technological object. Everything is designed to speak a plain, direct and instantly perceptible language. The target of crystal-clarity relies on a code linked to technology, based essentially on experience. 

The designers’ efforts have been concentrated on building a system of directly accessible references. “If you see a hole, the most natural thing you instinctively do is put a finger into it”. In this direction the opening signs, like the handle (not unlike that of a suitcase) speak the language of familiar objects, and suggest the feeling of a mobile, transportable, handy object… Having got rid of the tangle of wires that usually obstruct the back of these ‘machines’ (thanks also to the adoption of a new standard which provides a single connection plug for all the peripherals), the wholebody adopts the qualities of extreme synthesis characteristic of integrated objects. This new generation of intelligent objects (belonging to the same programme as that of the Apple Studio Display monitor) affords a glimpse of something else, especially if we consider Internet’s capacity to meet the immense expectations pinned, for better of worse, on the ‘positive’ powers of the web.

Domus 808, October 1998

The Apple Studio Display is a flat monitor representing the new generation of screens fated to supplant the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) technology. The height-adjustable pedestal was conceived with an “elementary” aim in mind: minimize the size of the desktop monitor and pioneer fresh interactive possibilities with the object in front of us. In this monitor Apple continues the exploration of the capabilities of “intelligent artifacts” for establishing emotional relationships with those who are intended to use them.

This experimental attitude is exhibited by the color research, the formal quality of the casing (a translucent skin that lets you glimpse the insides of the ‘machine’) or in the elaboration of signs that allude to the interaction with the human body. Thus a language is devised that is able to express the meanings that have been constructed around these constantly-evolving objects; there is a very close relationship with technology and it risks ruling their real nature.

In the past four years information technology has generated one-fourth of the economic growth in the United States. These designs tell us the extent of Apple’s new research commitment which regards the realization of information technology products according to a common design linking Macintosh, Newton, eMate and iMac.

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