[Article] How the Dumb Design of a WWII Plane Led to the Macintosh

I really enjoyed this excerpt from a new book about user experience design.

It chronicles Paul Fitts, one of the pioneers of Ergonomics and Human Factors, (and ultimately created Fitts’s law which is critical for graphic user interfaces).

The article explores the work Fitts did during World War II, making instrumental panels and flight controls more usable.

It’s a great 12 minute read:

I’m considering buying the book once I get caught up on my other reading.

What do you all think of the article? Would anyone be interested in writing a book review for it?


I was really into the first part of the article. I’ve been working for about a year to champion UX prioritization at my company. Since one of my higher-ups is a former Navy pilot, I might still send him the history half. I wasn’t all that fond of the commentary half of that excerpt though. It made it feel like the part I was interested in was just included to setup their argument - sort of a long form clickbait.

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When you compare the glass displays of today with… this. Its night and day.

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The beginnings of user-friendliness are an epiphany and a reminder that the “inexplicable” is often something very simple but requires a new eye. But as I read on I realized how user-friendliness has made me even more helpless around the machines in my life. The article became a Steven King morality/horror story. An excellent premise for a sci-fi novel. And just one more thing to put on the list of daily terrors.

Twenty years ago you could noodle around at your PC and learn how to do things. I found that if I needed to know how to do something I would finally discover how just by experimenting. I can’t do that any more and realize it’s because my computer is so very friendly.


If you try desktop Linux, you will quickly discover an entire world of things you can learn about your computer. It gives you full control (and more than enough rope to hang yourself if you aren’t careful). But I think it will bring back that wonder for you.


Thank you! I feel hugely accomplished because I can say (or do?) Hello World and have always thought Linux was sort of doctorate level computer knowledge. But I’ll put my toes in because of your recommendation. I look forward to a sense of wonder and am accustomed to flying off edges all self-noosed.

I am happy to be a part of the fCC community.

Yeah, you can navigate around the switches of that panel by feel, something you can’t do with the glass cockpits. Physical switches and dials make perfect sense for something whose function is never ever going to change. Modern user interfaces still have us using our fantastically evolved highly coordinated hands to do nothing more than grunt and stab at pictures of things with our finger. Minus the grunting, even.

I was appalled to learn that the Tesla cars have replaced all physical controls with one big touchscreen. As if distracted driving wasn’t bad enough without people having to look at their fan knobs, etc.

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Fascinating and it explains my frustration with poorly designed medical records software and car radios!

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