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The Interface

The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976

John Harwood
Series: A Quadrant Book
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Interface
    Book Description:

    The Interface is the first critical history of the industrial design of the computer, of Eliot Noyes’s career at IBM, and of some of the most important work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. John Harwood supplies a crucial chapter on architecture and design in postwar America—and an invaluable perspective on the computer and corporate cultures of today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7849-5
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[vii])
  3. Introduction The Interface
    (pp. viii-15)

    In February 1956, the president of the International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation, Thomas Watson Jr. (1914–93), hired the industrial designer and architect Eliot F. Noyes (1910–77). Given the title “consultant director of design,” Noyes was charged with entirely reinventing IBM’s corporate image, in parallel with Watson’s decision to reorganize IBM’s pyramidal managerial hierarchy into a more “horizontal,” efficient structure. Noyes thus coordinated the redesign of the entire environment of IBM on a telescoping scale: from stationery and curtains, to products such as typewriters and computers, to laboratory and administration buildings, IBM was literally to become “simply the best...

  4. Chapter 1 Eliot Noyes, Paul Rand, and the Beginnings of the IBM Design Program
    (pp. 16-57)

    In describing the genesis of the IBM Design Program, as Reyner Banham suggests, one is indeed dealing with both chickens and eggs. This “uncommon relationship” was, in the 1940s and early 1950s, still a rapidly changing one, and the establishment of the even more unusual relationship between Eliot Noyes and IBM marked yet another shift. One can do worse than to choose to begin with the chick, as it begins to emerge from its shell.

    Eliot Noyes came from a reasonably well-to-do New England family, whose ancestors dated back to the first English settlers of North America, and he grew...

  5. Chapter 2 The Architecture of the Computer
    (pp. 58-99)

    It is a truism in the history of science and technology that the computer, like any technology, was invented at multiple times and in many places, by any number of different people; accordingly, the contemporary historian of science and technology has any number of methodological responses to this problem immediately to hand.¹ Yet the computer presents a special problem to both designer and design historian, for two complex but interrelated reasons. The first is that it is impossible to pinpoint exactly who designed a given computer. An industrial product of immense technological complexity, a computer is the result of the...

  6. Chapter 3 IBM Architecture: The Multinational Counterenvironment
    (pp. 100-159)

    IBM had little in the way of an organized administrative strategy for its real estate and building development prior to Noyes’s intervention. Under Watson Sr. factories, office buildings, and storefronts alike were often simply leased from developers on a long-term basis, and those buildings that IBM did own were limited to those that housed its central administrative apparatus, such as the skyscraper at 590 Madison Avenue in New York and a handful of buildings in Endicott. As a result, IBM’s architectural appearance was eclectic, tending, if any tendency can be perceived, toward a conservative, classicizing image not unlike that of...

  7. Chapter 4 Naturalizing the Computer: IBM Spectacles
    (pp. 160-215)

    The strategic deployment of architectural installations discussed in the last chapter had a number of consequences for life and knowledge outside of IBM. As early as the beginning of the design consultancy in 1956, Noyes and his fellow advisors (Nelson and Eames in particular) began to work systematically toward a solution to the problem of how to design the interface between the architectural presence of the corporation and the various governmental, corporate, and individual consumers of its products and services. Noyes’s redesign of the showroom on Madison Avenue in 1954 had set at least some of the initial ground rules....

  8. Conclusion Virtuals Paradoxes
    (pp. 216-227)

    Now, with an overview, if not of the entirety, then at least of a reasonable cross-section of the IBM Design Program, several questions arise. First, and most generally: to what extent was Noyes’s and IBM’s attempt to redesign design—to reformulate design, previously conceived as an authorial act in one or another medium, into a systematic and anonymous logical process carried out simultaneously in various media—successful? In a televised interview with Noyes in 1966, just as RECD was gaining momentum and taking over the reins from Noyes in governing IBM’s architectural endeavors, the architecture critic and historian Reyner Banham...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 228-230)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 231-267)
  11. Index
    (pp. 268-278)
  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)