The Post-Mac Interface

20 years later, has the Anti-Mac Interface unseated the original Macintosh design principles?

“We reverse all of the core design principles behind the Macintosh human interface guidelines to arrive at the characteristics of the Internet desktop.”

Hello, Mac.

The System 1.0 desktop.

Hello, Anti-Mac.

“The Anti-Mac principles outlined here are optimized for the category of users and data that we believe will be dominant in the future: people with extensive computer experience who want to manipulate huge numbers of complex information objects while being connected to a network shared by immense numbers of other users and computers.”

What happened to the future?

The Post-Mac design principles.

Four Post-Mac technology trends.

A Mac, circa 1996. Looks a lot like a Mac, circa 1986.
Look at all those apps! Actually, look at all that mail…
The ultimate “magic” app.

The Post-Mac world features non-expert users, good-enough devices, and a bouquet of purpose-driven magical apps that mesh with those people’s daily lives.


Les Mis. Theatre Aspen. Not Paris.
The literal, skeuomorphic desktop of Magic Cap. Do you compose an email by opening the drawer with the envelope on it, clicking the Out box, or picking up the postcard?

The Anti-Mac: Reality

Post-Mac: Simulacra

Direct manipulation

Not much. (Yet.)

Anti Mac: Delegation

Post-Mac: Direct UIs for delegated services

See and point

Anti-Mac: Describe and command

Post-Mac: See and point


A pen that looks like a shoe! (by nevR-sleep on DeviantArt)

Anti-Mac: Diversity

Post-Mac: Consistency

WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get)

Good old WordPerfect. WYS is definitely not WYG.

Anti-Mac: Represent meaning

René Magritte.

Post-Mac: Represent meaning

So much meaning, not just pins on a map.

User control

Anti-Mac: Shared control

Post-Mac: Shared control

Feedback and dialog

Anti-Mac: System handles details

Post-Mac: Feedback and dialog

Flexible feedback mechanisms, many for background processes.
MapQuest circa 2007. Little direct manipulation, non-continuous feedback.


Anti-Mac: Model user actions

Post-Mac: Forgiveness

Google Maps. One click on a transit stop and I can explore a little more; just one click away and I’m back to the plain map. Forgiving. Also a great example of perceived stability; I clicked on the map, and some parts of the UI changed — it’s visually different, a new mode — but not radically so. One click on the X in the search box returns me to a safe starting point.

Perceived stability

Anti-Mac: Change

Post-Mac: Predictable change

Q: I’ve never eaten before. What do I ask for?
DATA: The choice of meal is determined by individual taste.
Q: What do you like?
DATA Although I do not require sustenance, I occasionally ingest semi-organic nutrient suspension in a silicon-based liquid medium.
Q: Is it good?
DATA: It would be more accurate to say it is good for me, as it lubricates my bio-functions.

Aesthetic integrity

Ableton Live. Judicious visual design, appropriate for its use case.
South Korean apartment blocks. Aesthetic integrity does not mean extreme uniformity.
Certainly memorable, with rich cues and variety…

Post-Mac: Aesthetic integrity

SquareCash. Not like all other UIs, but still demonstrating aesthetic integrity.


Former Apple executive, HCI researcher, and anti-mode crusader Larry Tesler’s license plate.

Anti-Mac: Richer cues

Post-Mac: Richer cues

Yelp, Lyft, and Apple Maps. Awfully similar, but different enough — same map, different “mode,” with richer cues. Even within each app you’ll find multiple modes, each slightly different. There are still mode errors — when the same action produces an unexpected or different result — but in general, richer cues have helped us figure things out. If all interfaces were text-based, or only used graphically-impoverished standard controls, richer cues would be difficult.

The characteristics of the Post-Mac interface.