Jef Raskin

Jef Raskin

Jef Raskin outdoors, photographed by his son Aza Raskin.
Born March 9, 1943(1943-03-09)
New York City
Died February 26, 2005(2005-02-26) (aged 61)
Pacifica, California
Known for human-computer interface expert
Spouse Linda S. Blum

Jef Raskin (March 9, 1943 — February 26, 2005) was an American human-computer interface expert best known for starting the Macintosh project for Apple in the late 1970s.


Early years and education

Raskin was born in New York City. He received degrees in mathematics (B.S. 1964) and philosophy (B.A. 1965) at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 1967 he earned a master's degree in computer science at Pennsylvania State University. His first computer program, a music program, was part of his master's thesis.

Raskin later enrolled in a graduate music program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), but stopped to teach art, photography and computer science there, working as an assistant professor from 1970 until 1974. He occasionally wrote for computer publications, such as Dr. Dobb's Journal.

Career at Apple

Raskin first met Apple Computer's Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak following the debut of their Apple II personal computer at the first West Coast Computer Faire. Steve Jobs hired his firm, Bannister and Crun, which was named for two characters in the BBC radio comedy The Goon Show,[1] to write the Apple II BASIC Programming Manual. In January 1978 Raskin joined Apple as Manager of Publications, the company's 31st employee. For some time he continued as Director of Publications and New Product Review, and also worked on packaging and other issues.

From his responsibility for documentation and testing, Raskin had great influence on early engineering projects. Because the Apple II only displayed uppercase characters on a 40-column screen, his department used the Polymorphic Systems 8813 (an Intel-8080-based machine running CP/M), to write documentation; this spurred the development of an 80-column display card and a suitable text editor for the Apple II. His experiences testing Applesoft BASIC inspired him to design a competing product, called Notzo BASIC, which was never implemented. When Steve Wozniak developed the first disk drives for the Apple II, Raskin went back to his contacts at UCSD and encouraged them to port the UCSD P-System operating system (incorporating a version of the Pascal programming language) to it, which Apple later licensed and shipped as Apple Pascal.

Through this time Raskin continually wrote memos about how the personal computer could become a true consumer appliance. While the Apple III was under development in 1978 and 79, Raskin was lobbying for Apple to create a radically different kind of computer that was designed from the start to be easy to use. In Computers by the Millions, he stated that expandable computers like the Apple II were too complex, and development was difficult due to the unknown nature of the machine the program ran on.[2] The machine he envisioned was very different from the Macintosh that was eventually released and had much more in common with PDAs than modern desktop-based machines.

Raskin started the Macintosh project in 1979 to implement some of these ideas. He later hired his former student Bill Atkinson from UCSD to work at Apple, along with Andy Hertzfeld and Burrell Smith from the Apple Service Department, which was located in the same building as the Publications Department. The machine was similar in power to the Apple II and included a small 9-inch black-and-white character display built into a small case with a floppy disk. A number of basic applications were built into the machine, selectable by pressing function keys. The machine also included logic that would understand user intentions and switch programs on the fly. For instance, if the user simply started typing text it would switch into editor mode, and if they typed numbers it would switch to calculator mode. In many cases these switches would be largely invisible to the user.

In 1981 Steve Jobs directed his attention to Raskin's Macintosh project, intending to marry the Xerox PARC-inspired GUI-based Lisa design to Raskin's appliance-computing, "computers-by-the-millions" concept. Raskin takes credit for introducing Jobs and other Apple employees to the PARC concepts. Raskin also claims to have had continued direct input into the eventual Mac design, including the decision to use a one-button mouse as part of the Apple interface, a departure from the Xerox PARC's 3-button mouse.[citation needed] Others, including Larry Tesler, acknowledge his advocacy for a one-button mouse but say that it was a decision reached simultaneously by others at Apple who had a stronger say on the issue.[citation needed] Raskin later stated that were he to redesign the mouse it would have three clearly labeled buttons—two buttons on top marked "Select" and "Activate", and a "Grab" button on the side that could be used by squeezing the mouse.[3] This description nearly fits the Apple Mighty Mouse, which is available now. It has the three described buttons (two invisible), but they are assigned to different functions than Raskin specified for his own interface and can be customized.

Pioneering the information appliance

Jef Raskin holding a model of the Canon Cat.

Raskin left Apple in 1982 and formed Information Appliance, Inc. to implement the concepts of his original Macintosh concept. The first product was the SwyftCard, a firmware card for the Apple II containing an integrated application suite, also released on a disk as SwyftWare. Information Appliance later shipped the Swyft as a stand-alone laptop computer. Raskin licensed this design to Canon, which shipped a similar product as the Canon Cat. Released in 1987, the unit had an innovative interface that attracted much interest but it did not become a commercial success. Raskin claimed that its failure was due in some part to Steve Jobs, who successfully pitched Canon on the NeXT Computer at about the same time. It has also been suggested that Canon canceled the Cat due to internal rivalries within its divisions.

Raskin also wrote a book, The Humane Interface (Addison-Wesley, 2000),[4] in which he developed his ideas about human-computer interfaces.

Raskin was a long-time member of BAYCHI, the Bay-Area Computer-Human Interface group, a professional organization for human-interface designers. He presented papers on his own work, reviewed the human interfaces of various consumer products (such as a BMW car he'd been asked to review), and discussed the work of his colleagues in various companies and universities.

At the start of the new millennium, Raskin undertook the building of a new computer interface based on his 30 years of work and research, called The Humane Environment, THE. On January 1, 2005, he renamed it Archy. It is a system incarnating his concepts of the humane interface, by using open source elements within his rendition of a ZUI or Zooming User Interface. In the same period Raskin accepted an appointment as Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the University of Chicago's Computer Science Department and, with Leo Irakliotis, started designing a new curriculum on humane interfaces and computer enterprises.

His work is being extended and carried on by his son Aza Raskin at Humanized, a company that was started shortly after Raskin's death to continue his legacy. Humanized released Enso, a linguistic command-line interface, which is based on Jef's work and dedicated in his memory. In early 2008, Humanized became part of Mozilla,.[5]

His ideas still have strong currency. Also, while the Archy project never managed to include a functional ZUI, a third party developed a commercial application called Raskin inspired by the same Zoomworld ZUI idea.[6][7]


Raskin expanded the meaning of the term cognetics in his book The Humane Interface to mean "the ergonomics of the mind." According to Raskin Center, "Cognetics brings interface design out of the mystic realm of guruism, transforming it into an engineering discipline with a rigorous theoretical framework."

The term cognetics had earlier been coined and trademarked by Charles Kreitzberg in 1982 when he started Cognetics Corporation, one of the first user experience design companies.[8] It is also used to describe educational programs intended to foster thinking skills in grades 3-12 (US)[9] and for Cognetics, Inc., an economic research firm founded by David L. Birch, a Professor at MIT.[10]

Raskin discouraged using the informal term intuitive in user interface design, claiming that easy to use interfaces are often due to exposure to previous, similar systems, thus the term 'familiar' should be preferred.[11] Aiming for "intuitive" interfaces (based on reusing existing skills with interaction systems) could lead designers to discard a better design solution only because it would require a novel approach.

Outside interests

While best-known as a computer scientist, Raskin also had other interests. He conducted the San Francisco Chamber Opera Society and played various instruments, including the organ and the recorder. His artwork was displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art. He received a patent for airplane wing construction,[12] and designed and marketed radio controlled model gliders. He was said to be an accomplished archer, target shooter, bicycle racer and an occasional model race car driver. He was a passionate musician and composer, publishing a series of collected recorder studies using the pseudonym of Aabel Aabius. In his later years he also wrote free-lance articles for Macintosh magazines, such as MacHomeJournal as well as many modeling magazines, Forbes, Wired, and computing journals. One of his most favorite pastimes was to play music with his children. He would accompany them on the piano while they played or sang while going through old fake-books passed down from his father. They would also routinely improvise together.

Raskin owned a small company, "Jef's Friends", which made and sold model airplane kits through hobby shops. Somehow, he managed to turn most of his hobbies into profitable businesses.

One of Raskin's instruments was the organ. At his home he played an "army field organ", a portable reed organ designed for military chaplains, and he once bought a pipe organ from a convent in Belmont for the lobby at Apple. This was quickly rejected by Steve Jobs who had originally approved of the purchase. For at least the last 8 years of his life he played on a small pipe organ that he purchased in Switzerland. It arrived in the States in pieces and was put together by friends and family under his direction. Following the lead of Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth (with whom Raskin has played) who had designed his house around his own pipe organ, he designed a house in Brisbane, California to contain the organ, but the building project failed due to lack of a thorough soil analysis. The house project collapsed, and the project dissolved in a flurry of litigation. Then, Raskin accepted the job at Apple Computer as employee number 31. He persuaded Steve Jobs to reserve space in one of Apple's new buildings, "Bandley 3", for the organ to be installed and actually played. After some months, the convent asked Raskin when he actually wanted to haul the organ away. When Jobs reneged on his word, Raskin traveled to the convent with a San Jose Mercury News reporter to inspect the organ. Raskin, the reporter, and several Publications department employees trooped through the nuns' dormitory to reach the organ loft above the convent chapel. One employee, a soprano, tested the chapel's acoustics by singing Schubert's Ave Maria, and a few days later an article appeared describing the dilemma of a computer executive who owned a pipe organ and had no place to put it. A local church offered to buy the organ, at a modest loss, and the convent was able to install their new pipe organ. Curiously, a few years later, Raskin had a house big enough. On the day of Apple's IPO, Raskin bought a hilltop lot on Montebello Road with a small house on it, then sold his current house in the Cupertino flatlands. He built a much larger house, with an attached concert hall, whose acoustics had been designed by Bolt, Beranek and Newman. This hall was used for a variety of purposes, ranging from chamber-music concerts to vacation slide shows.

Personal life and later years

Jef Raskin married Linda S. Blum in 1982. They had three children together—Aza, Aviva, and Aenea, with honorary/surrogate siblings Rebecca Fureigh, and Jenna Mandis.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2004 and died in Pacifica, California on February 26, 2005, at age 61.

See also


  1. ^ Macintosh Stories: The Father Of The Macintosh
  2. ^ Jef Raskin, "Computers by the Millions", 1979
  3. ^ The Humane Interface Appendix A, Pg. 209, last paragraph
  4. ^ Raskin, Jef 2000.The Humane Interface, Addison-Wesley ISBN 0-201-37937-6
  5. ^ "Humanized Joining Mozilla". Humanized Inc.. January 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  6. ^ Raskin, A Finder Replacement for Mac
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Burr, J. et al., Cognetics: Thinking Skills Activities in Inventions/Technology and Science. Teacher's Manual and Student Manual. Philadelphia, PA: RBS Publications, 1992.
  10. ^ "The Little Engine That Could". The New York Times. May 1, 1988. Retrieved May 6, 2010. 
  11. ^ Intuitive equals familiar, Communications of the ACM. 37:9, September 1994, pg. 17.
  12. ^ Jef Raskin - Curriculum Vitae

External links

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