The First Time I Saw an iMac

The first time I saw an iMac, I didn’t know what it was, but I vividly remember the moment. I was at the mall in the small Maryland town where I grew up, inside the Sears store. I’m pretty sure I was there with my mom, but I don’t remember what we were shopping for. I was about fifteen years old. I didn’t notice the iMac because I was interested in computers at the time. I noticed it because of the design – specifically, the translucent color.

Of course, the iMac I’m remembering is the iMac G3. This is the computer which Steve Jobs envisioned and Jony Ive designed when Jobs returned to Apple. He bet the company on it and won. At the time I saw this computer as a teenager, I wasn’t even aware of Apple. (We always had pcs growing up.) But I clearly remember the moment of encountering that computer. I can still picture the inside of the store. The candy-colored iMac jumped off the beige shelves filled with beige and black consumer electronics. I was intrigued.

Looking back, it’s funny to realize that it made such a lasting impression on me. I think this was because it was unlike any other computer I had seen before. I didn’t know anything about it, but I was attracted to it. It was just cool.

About four years later, I encountered the same iMac G3 at the Design Museum in London. I was there with fellow college students on an art tour of England. The featured exhibit was for the Design Museum’s first Designer of the Year Award. One of the nominated designers (and winner of the award) was Jonathan Ive. There, behind the glass exhibit walls, was the iMac G3. It sat alongside the iPod and Ive’s other iconic Apple designs up to that point. At the time, I didn’t make the connection between that moment and when I had encountered the iMac in Sears years earlier. However, seeing Ive’s work on display also left a big impression in my mind.

What is it about that iMac design that was so remarkable? What is it about the design of objects that can make such an impression? I think the answer has something to do with raw emotional appeal. Both times, I reacted to the design of the iMac more from intuition and feeling than anything else.

Today, I tend to eschew unnecessary visual styling – and even color – added to products. I prefer designs that are modern and simple – designs unswayed by fashion trends. With the release of the iPhone 5c, much was again made of Apple’s use of color in product design. Though I would probably choose white if I were to buy one, the undeniable attraction of the colors is still there for me. Perhaps it’s a reminder to not forget the most powerful element in design, however elusive and abstract it may be: emotion.