- Make It New: The History of Silicon Valley Design by Barry M. Katz
by Barry M. Katz; Foreword by John Maeda. The MIT Press., Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2015. 280pp., illus. Trade, eBook. ISBN: 978-0-262-02963-6; ISBN:978-0-262-33091-6.
Now that Silicon Valley machines, software suites and platforms have increasingly crept in as art and design schools’ global infrastructure, it is about time to investigate what the history of design in Silicon Valley is like. Professor Barry M. Katz’s book is a timely—perhaps even overdue— take on the historical development of the appreciation, role and insights of design in some of the key corporations of digital culture. But thankfully it is not merely a corporate or business history. Make It New is a very useful work of design history that outlines why it is not sufficient to engage with Silicon Valley based merely on engineering or on marketing, not merely the economic impact or the aura of geniuses that are among the usual narratives one encounters. Katz’s book shows how from a mere tolerance of designers in technology companies design became gradually recognized as a form of activity and discourse that started to shape not only the corporations or their products but also the wider environment in which digital culture took place. Hence this shift in the focus and importance of design over decades is what enables people like Tim Brown (IDEO) to claim in a much later phase of Silicon Valley design culture that “we are still designing machines but also the ghosts that live inside them” (p. 161).
Katz shows how the many contexts and situations had an impact in reshaping design as field of practice and education. In other words, it was not only design that entered Silicon Valley but Silicon Valley that entered how design was thought of globally. In many of the interesting discussions in the book, he details the work of knowledge exchange, both in the post–World War II situation where German expertise was brought in to assist American work in technology and science, but also the continuous relations between design institutions and Silicon Valley. Furthermore, his book touches on how emerging disciplines become synthetized—for example, interaction design in the midst of the recognition to take into account “human factors.” Indeed, in the 1970s and especially in the 1980s, the “turn” in digital culture and design of interfaces brought to the fore the design task of how to find effective ways to incorporate users into the system. Design became attached not merely to the industrial design of the machine and its interface but also to the wider environment in which they work. For example, Xerox Corporation was very much embedded in this dilemma (pp. 110–111).
Further to a consideration of the environments in which machines were used, this rethinking was crucial in the shift from computers as office equipment to the idea of them becoming integrated in educational institutions and for educational use. This was one of the key questions [End Page 470]
in the early Apple Multimedia Lab. Design itself became an interdisciplinary field, or perhaps more accurately a clustering of expertise under a lab environment: not merely information, graphic or industrial design, such labs had to also incorporate considerations of anthropometrics, physiology, psychology, sociology, anthropology and even ecology in the activity of design and the projected user/environment of use (p. 115). Beside the activity, Katz gives useful attention to the history of “labs” as sites where the various disciplines met and became operationally part of the corporate design of digital culture. This is an important context for the current considerations of design education and innovation, the spatial sites, which become concrete but also rhetorical markers of interdisciplinarity. Already in 1960, Kermit Seefeld, the chairman of the Industrial Arts Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, voiced how different traditional and new academic education and scholarly places of activity can be:
The library is thought of as a quiet place, whereas the shops are decidedly noisy; the classroom is clean whereas a lab is dirty...