what have you been doing upstairs?
Some people believe that humans are either analytical, rational and sensible or spontaneous, creative and intuitive. Having watched too much TV as a kid in the 50s, I thought people were supposed to be Sargent Joe Friday (from Dragnet) or Maynard G. Krebs (from Dobie Gillis). My problem was I always felt a little like both of these guys.
In college I decided
to be a fine art photographer. But in 1972, when I was working in photography
at The Evergreen State College,
I heard a clattering noise coming from what was labeled the "Terminal
Room." Inside, a friend was sitting at what looked like a large typewriter.
He said he was programming and asked if I would like to see how
it was done. I said "yes" and have never been the same since.
couple of months later I was busy programming at home with my own
computer, an Atari
400. This was a joyous experience. (My wife says that the
day it arrived was the happiest she's ever seen me.) Despite its membrane
keyboard and TV set monitor, it was loaded with graphics, sound capability,
and programming challenges. I came up with endless projects. I can remember
the thrill when I discovered how to input and output signals from the
joystick ports. At one point I designed a home surveillance system
for our apartment in Seattle that used little magnetic switches from Radio
Shack. It displayed a representation of our apartment on the screen and
showed when a door or window was open. It worked so well I expanded the
system to include little tilt switches placed on bushes outside the windows.
This also worked fine until one windy night when I was away from home
and it set off the alarm every few minutes. The next day my wife told
me to dismantle it.
My first Mac programs,
which were given away, were designed to help me learn the Mac QuickDraw
routines. They did nothing useful but were mildly entertaining. Company
was a desk accessory that displayed an animated face and a game to keep
you company. Fido was an animated dog that talked in graphics.
I also created two artist's books, Signal to Noise and
Dry Reading (Available on this site) , that shared some of
the graphics and aesthetics my software has. My most successful program
from this time was Camera, an educational title that interactively
demonstrated the relationship between f. stop and shutter speed. I put
Camera in public domain and it was distributed widely on computer
1. (The Prime Directive) The program should be extremely easy to use. No manual should be needed and program features should "explain themselves" through use. All tasks should be able to be performed in the simplest, most straightforward way. The program should go out of its way to meet the user.
2. As long as The Prime Directive is not violated, every opportunity should be taken to make the program surprising and satisfying to use. No opportunity should be missed. The process of making a picture should be as important as the picture produced.
3. The program should, in some way, expand the concept of what computer paint programs are, as well as what mark making can be.
4. The program should be open ended. Premade graphics should be modifiable by the user.
5. I wanted each tool to have a large number of options but I didn't want the user to be overwhelmed with options. I didn't want to use pull-down menus for this because, among other reasons, Ben had trouble with them. The system I developed involved displaying a selection of 14 options for each tool in a window at the bottom of the screen. As the tool selection changed, the options changed.
6. The first Kid Pix was designed to run on the original Macintosh with a 9-inch, black and white screen (512 X 342 pixels). All paint programs made for the Mac at that time displayed a virtual page showing only a portion of the potential drawing area at one time. I decided this was a bad idea for my program because it is essential to see your whole picture at the same time. So I made the drawing area on the screen as large as possible but did not have the contents of the screen scroll. "What you saw is what you got."
7. In addition to "traditional" computer paint program tools like the brush, pencil, eraser, circle and rectangle, my program would include tools that would be surprising and visually unusual. Most computer paint programs were designed in a way that made them seem like second class citizens, always attempting to mimic traditional art making tools, but never doing a particularly good job of it. In fact, the computer can make marks in a variety of interesting ways that traditional tools can't. It can also do a good job of creating comic tools. This is where the "wacky brushes" came from.
8. Undo is an extremely important function that deserves a button of its own instead of just being a menu item. The Undo Guy was born.
9. Children love stickers and rubber stamps. The program should allow for some pre-made iconic art. The stamps in the Original Kid Pix were taken from the Cairo font from Apple Computer designed by Susan Kare. Apple had stopped distributing Cairo with their computers and I thought the pictures were too good not to be seen.
10. Users are very smart and can tell quickly when someone is trying to cover up a lame program with flashy graphics. A poor program gets dull very soon no matter how trendy the interface is.
11. When Ben built something out of blocks, he enjoyed knocking his structure down almost as much as he did building it. Getting rid of the picture should be fun. Hence the exploding firecracker eraser.
12. Why not have an eraser that erases your picture but displays a hidden picture as you erase?
13. When small children are using the program, a parent should be able to hide the menu bar so desk accessories, etc. can't be selected accidentally.
14. The program should, in most ways, act like a standard program and have a standard user interface so users new to the computer learn basic principles. Kid Pix ended up being widely used to introduce children and adults to using the computer.
15. While on the surface the program should seem to be for children, open minded adults should get a kick out of using it too.
As the program came
closer to completion I needed to think of a name. After considerable
thought I came up with "Kid Pix." It was easy to
say, had a nice punch to it and was made up of simple three
letter words. (This must be something I am attracted to: my wife's name
is Kay and my children are Ben and Art). I liked the way "Pix"
referred to "Pictures," "Pixels,"
and "to Pick," and I liked way the words looked
graphically when stacked on top of each other. It also occurred to me
that it would probably be easy to say in other languages, though at
that time I never imagined that it would be sold around the world. Later,
Broderbund decided to rename it and had a company-wide competition to
come up with a new name. When none came up, they went to a professional
name consultant. He told them that he could take their money and come
up with a new name, but it wouldn't be any better than "Kid Pix."
By June of 1990 I was starting to get $25 checks in the mail for Kid Pix Professional, and the program was actually done on time. It was a real treat to walk out to the mailbox every day and find checks and letters. I ended up selling about 100 copies of Kid Pix Professional and think that if vintage software is ever collected, it should make one of the really rare finds.
Many people had been supportive of Kid Pix when it was being developed, among them Paul Scott, Bonnie Meltzer , Anita Best , Richard Wanderman and Judi Mathis Johnson. Many were instrumental in helping make contacts that finally resulted in my sending a copy of Kid Pix to Broderbund Software in the summer of 1990. I really didn't expect that the program would be picked up by a major publisher, but when I received the name of someone at Broderbund to send it to, I dropped a copy in the mail anyway. About a week later I got a call from Harry Wilker of Broderbund, who said right off that he wanted to publish Kid Pix. He also said that they receive a lot of paint program submissions and almost didn't even look at Kid Pix. A week later I flew to down to the corporate headquarters. There I also met Leslie Wilson, Richard Whittaker and Rebecca Knievel. Rebecca had been a student of mine at the University of Oregon a year earlier and the fact that she was working on the Kid Pix project was a total coincidence. Richard, the publisher, was very astute in his assessment of software. I ended up working extensively with Leslie over the next few years and found her to be a first-class software designer and extremely good at interpersonal relations.
Before Kid Pix was
released, Broderbund wanted to make a number of changes. Fortunately,
I agreed whole-heartedly with them and felt that the people I was working
with really understood the program. One of the major changes
was about sound. Kid Pix Professional had incorporated some user interface
sounds, including the exploding eraser and alphabet sounds. I hadn't
given everything a sound because, for one thing, I couldn't get some
of the more sophisticated sound techniques to work, and for another,
I quickly discovered that I didn't have the aptitude for sounds that
I had for dealing with the visual aspects of the program. Fortunately
Broderbund had an exceptional sound department which created
a wonderful set of sound effects for Kid Pix tools. (I also figured
out how to program sound without crashing the computer.) There were
others from Broderbund and elsewhere who contributed to the final program.
At the bottom of this document you will find the credits as they appeared
in Kid Pix 1.0.
Even before the Broderbund version of Kid Pix was released, the feedback I was getting was good. In December Stewart Alsop in P.C. Letter had some kind things to say about a pre-release version of Kid Pix, and to my great surprise and shock, in January, 1991 John Sculley featured Kid Pix in his keynote speech at MacWorld. In the following issue of Macweek a headline read, "Kid Pix Vrooms past Sculley at Expo." This was all before Kid Pix was released. At that time Broderbund started work on Kid Pix for DOS.
In March 1991 Kid Pix 1.0 was released, and things started to get really good. Sales were significantly above expectations and the reviews were exceptional. Very positive reviews appeared in MacUser, The San Jose Mercury News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Whole Earth Review. A MacWorld Magazine review stated, "Pros: Brilliant; hilarious; innovative; inexpensive. Cons: None." An article in the Wall Street Journal referred to it as "a startling product for the Macintosh that uses color and sound." I couldn't believe what was happening! Kid Pix also won quite a number of awards, including the 1991 MacUser Eddi for best Children's Program, the 1991 Software Publishers Association Awards for Best User Interface in a New Program and Best Early Learning Program (presented on stage by Bill Gates, who went on to create a competing product), and the MacWorld World-Class award for Best Education Program.
Kid Pix was also
sold around the world. There were versions in about a dozen languages,
including Finnish and Hebrew. Since Kid Pix was already bilingual, it
was rather easy to add another language.
Here are the credits as they appeared in Kid Pix 1.0, 1991.
With Thanks To:
Kid Pix Fans