My First Computer and Interaction Design Project - 1971
Cutaway Side Views and Interactional Architecture Scheme From the Working Cardboard Model
©1971 - 2000 Jim Leftwich / Orbit Interaction - All Rights Reserved

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In this Side View, the six pre-programmed question buttons can be seen, along with the INPUT and OUTPUT slots, and the "electrical apparatus" that controlled the computer's lights.

The "trestle supports" beneath the INPUT chute seem just a bit over-engineered though!

This Side View is similar to the first, but also describes the symbol-reinforced Usage Scheme with the Question Cards and their circular Number Icon corresponding with an associated button on the front of the computer.

And here's a detail drawing of the computer's INNER BRAIN. It's processing architecture was based on the peace sign.

Being a child of the sixties, I remember being very proud of that fact!

The Story

One fateful day in 1971, when I was ten years old, I decided I really needed my own computer. Living on a farm in the Midwest, my knowledge of computers was informed mostly by the images I saw in movies, television, and cartoons. But I thought if I did a bit of thinking, I could maybe design a simple working model. On my own I sat down at the kitchen table with a pad of notebook paper and worked out a design. Then I built a working carboard model. Unfortunately, there are no surviving photographs of the model, but I remember it was bright yellow and had working lights (though the "electrical apparatus" was apparently unconnected to the core interaction process.).

What's perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project however, was that it was very much my first work of interactional architecture. It's obvious from studying these drawings that the central focus was the emphasis on usability. The interactional scheme worked like this:


Computer Operating Instructions.


1 - My computer was designed to answer up to six pre-programmed questions. Questions were pre-printed on rectangular computer punchcard-style QUESTION CARDS, each of which had an iconic number printed in a circle, corresponding with one of the six circular, numbered OPERATION BUTTONS on the front of the computer.

2 - After noting the number on a particular QUESTION CARD, it would be inserted into the INPUT SLOT atop the computer. QUESTION CARDS slid down an internal chute into the computer's INNER BRAIN, the
processing architecture of which I based on the peace sign.

(this portion of the process was largely ceremonial, with the QUESTION CARD being dropped out the back, ready for reuse).

3 - The user would then press the appropriately corresponding OPERATION BUTTON on the front of the computer. A rod attached to each numbered OPERATION BUTTON pushed an ANSWER SLIP, ( pre-loaded into the computer's "INNER BRAIN") out of its compartment.

4 - The corresponding ANSWER SLIP then fell and slid down another internal cute to be dispensed from the computer's OUTPUT SLOT.


I remember feeling disappointed that my computer was not the magic box I really wanted. After all, I had to tell it all the answers beforehand. But a year later in 1972, during a visit from my out-of-state uncle Jim Harvey, who was an electrical engineer for the FAA, he told me that all computers had to be programmed to some extent. There were no magic computers, and mine had the added benefit of being easy to use! He then taught me how to program a 49-line artillery game onto his new programmable Hewlett-Packard HP-65. He also taught me about binary numbers and how computers really work. That was it, I was hooked!

From that day on I was fascinated with the way things work, and how they could be made easier for everybody. The drawings even bear a similarity to the diagrams I create today when designing the interactional architecture for combination physical / visual / informational systems.

I'm grateful my Mom saved these three drawings. They remain among my most cherished artifacts.

©1971 - 2000 Jim Leftwich / Orbit Interaction - All Rights Reserved

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