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The Interface

IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976

John Harwood

Publication Year: 2011

In February 1956 the president of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr., hired the industrial designer and architect Eliot F. Noyes, charging him with reinventing IBM’s corporate image, from stationery and curtains to products such as typewriters and computers and to laboratory and administration buildings. What followed—a story told in full for the first time in John Harwood’s The Interface—remade IBM in a way that would also transform the relationships between design, computer science, and corporate culture.

IBM’s program assembled a cast of leading figures in American design: Noyes, Charles Eames, Paul Rand, George Nelson, and Edgar Kaufmann Jr. The Interface offers a detailed account of the key role these designers played in shaping both the computer and the multinational corporation. Harwood describes a surprising inverse effect: the influence of computer and corporation on the theory and practice of design. Here we see how, in the period stretching from the “invention” of the computer during World War II to the appearance of the personal computer in the mid-1970s, disciplines once well outside the realm of architectural design—information and management theory, cybernetics, ergonomics, computer science—became integral aspects of design.

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

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: A Quadrant Book


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-8

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Introduction: The Interface

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pp. 1-16

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, ...

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Chapter One: Eliot Noyes, Paul Rand, and the Beginnings of the IBM Design Program

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pp. 17-58

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. ...

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Chapter Two: The Architecture of the Computer

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pp. 59-100

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 ...

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Chapter Three: IBM Architecture: The Multinational Counterenvironment

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pp. 101-160

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, ...

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Chapter Four: Naturalizing the Computer: IBM Spectacles

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pp. 161-216

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 ...

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Conclusion: Virtual Paradoxes

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pp. 217-227

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, ...

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pp. 228-230

I am extremely grateful to Paul Lascewicz, Dawn Stanford, and the staff at the IBM Corporate Archives in Somers, New York. Without their efforts in opening up the rich collections there to me, and without their generous help at each stage in my research and preparation of the manuscript, this book would never have been written. ...


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pp. 231-267


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pp. 268-278

About the Author

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pp. 288-288

Image Plates

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pp. 289-296

E-ISBN-13: 9780816678495
E-ISBN-10: 0816678499
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816670390

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: A Quadrant Book
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OCLC Number: 768082776
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Interface