I’ve been interested in user interface design since I was a teenager. On my hand-me-down Windows XP computer, I regularly reskinned the OS to emulate Linux distros or Mac OS X in both design and function. But once I got my first Mac, I was able to truly appreciate the value of thoughtful and deliberate interface and interaction design.
When an interface and the interactions that power it are built to make things easy, accessible, responsive, and obvious to the user, then that user’s work can be more efficient and seamless, with fewer pain points and more opportunities for creativity and experimentation. In the case of the most visually elegant operating systems (in my opinion, at least), strict constraints enabled design to take new forms and establish a path for success that has endured for decades.
In the early days of graphic user interfaces, designers and engineers were heavily constrained by small CRT displays, low processing power and memory, and small floppy disks and hard drives. With access to only black and white, or at most a small handful of colors by the time of System 6’s decimal updates, designers had to work within strict limits on what they could do. For instance, fonts and icons were bitmapped, rather than vector images, so they couldn’t scale infinitely. But they often didn’t need that functionality. And with a limited color palette, deliberate use of color and techniques like halftone patterns were critical to avoid overwhelming the interface.
Chicago, the default system font on Macs for years, started as a bitmap. A TrueType vector version is now the heading font on this website. The icons I drew for this site’s homepage were also inspired by the bitmaps of those old systems, and established constraints for me to work within that resulted in lovely illustrations of the work I do.
Modern versions of macOS are beautiful, reliable and functional; their lineage’s origin in Lisa OS and the early Systems is clear and impressive. But they don’t have quite the same magic as those classic systems. I hope this website can serve as an example of what a more minimalist, history-inspired visual design can accomplish, even in an era of Apple Silicon, 8K monitors, and 450W graphics cards.
This website and business, meadows.design, is named after myself: in Norwegian, “enger” means “meadows”.