Working life

Designer’s Stockholm syndrome

4 minute read 
why designers use macs

They are overly expensive, closed to any modification and difficult to fix by oneself if hardware goes bad. So why are designers so fixated by their Macs?

Macs are overly expensive, closed to any modification and difficult to fix by oneself if hardware goes bad. So why are designers so fixated by them?

I started thinking about this after reading comments in a post about designers’ desks. The vitriol on display is truly incredible.

Wow. All of the Mac setups are a joke. Style over function rubbish.

The consensus is that designers who use Apple Macs, choose them based purely on their sleek design. Yes, this is one factor in our decision to buy yet another Apple product, but there are many other reasons behind our adoption of the Mac for work. One reason that interests me the most is ‘historical’.

In the beginning

In 1985, John McWade became the first beta tester for Aldus PageMaker, the original desktop publishing app for Apple. Since John was the PageMaker expert, Apple asked him to create a poster for them. 

As he explains, “I created How to Design a Page on Saturday and on Monday drove to Cupertino with proofs. ‘You did this on our computer?’ they asked. I was surprised by their surprise. ‘No one here does this,’ they said. ‘I just used PageMaker,’ I said. ‘But you’re using it,’ they said, ‘to design cool stuff.’”

why designers use macs

Aldus later morphed into Adobe, John McWade started the first desktop publishing company and parish newsletters were never the same.

In the late 80’s, Apple started supporting PostScript printing. The LaserWriter printer was born, which ushered in a revolution of exciting home and office printing Now the masses had the ability to print high-resolution graphics and documents at an affordable price. Crisp bar charts and clip art become the major talking point at meetings in the late 90’s. Thanks to the Mac.

Again in the 1980s, Susan Kare, who worked at Apple and a pioneer of icon design, was one of the first designers to really look at type design for screens. Her focus was on optimising screen readability and so Mac was the first computer to allow for more refined and rich digital typography.

why designers use macs

Over the next few years, there was an explosion of beautiful, practical and horrendous typefaces entering the world, giving designers more expressive options than ever before. In 1991 esteemed design historian Philip B. Meggs said, that “suddenly in 1988, anyone with a Macintosh or other computer […] could wreak havoc on these beautifully crafted forms.”

Then came Photoshop, ‘still’ the industry standard for photo editing. Originally created on a Macintosh Pro, it was only available for Mac on its release in 1990. A cut down PC version of Photoshop was released two years later, which was a little too late. 

The price of change

I don’t like change when it comes to my design tools. Change in methods yes, but not tools that have worked perfectly for years. I’ve built a 15 year legacy of Apple software, files and muscle memory. I never knew any better and saw the greatest designers of my generation using Macs.

Apple’s revolutionary predecessor IBM, had found ways of keeping users under their spell. In the mid 60’s, they brought out the 360 line of computers. For the first time in computer history, machines in a family of computers were software compatible. Companies could now migrate up through the IBM line, knowing that they would not need to reprogram their expensive software.

why designers use macs

Then IBM dropped the ball in the 80’s and started contracting out PC component manufacturing to third parties. Talk about efficiently diluting a devoted fan base.

Fifty years since, I find myself shackled to my Mac, enmeshed in their ecosystem. If I was to let my Mac go, I’m sure I would need to undergo lengthy psychological debriefings.

Does this history lesson seem like I’m stretching things too far? If so, there is another obvious and far simpler reason why I haven’t changed brand. Even with all their quirks, Macs are reliable and powerful enough get work done without any fuss. Gamers and developers with powerful PC systems will disagree, but I have never felt the need to change, as it doesn’t affect my output. It’s just a tool.

Sitting down to face my captor, I realise that it’s not so bad after all. In some alternative history, I could find myself shackled to a monstrous whirring mainframe, running something called Windows 20.6.

Some references

Tracey Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine, Dreams from the Digital Darkroom


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