‘INTERFACE’ Exhibition @ The Powerhouse Museum

Categories Design, Technology

If you get excited about how design bridges intent to output, you’ll enjoy looking at and thinking about the collection at INTERFACE as much as I did…


The Sydney Powerhouse Museum’s INTERFACE exhibition has curated a collection of devices and objects that provide a physical, mental or conceptual bridge between the output of a tool and the human controlling it.

Part of the collection (“The Three Phases of Adoption”) takes variously similar manifestations of a device and allocates them into three categories of user; enthusiast, professional and consumer. The role of design in this process is to reduce technological complexity.

I tried to identify the similarities and omissions (the overall expression) of each manifestation of a similar type of interface. I thought about how this happens in more traditional artforms – for instance two artists painting the same subject may choose to omit and include or augment and diminish differing aspects of the subject in order to convey what they feel is necessary. I found it particularly curious in seeing which elements of interface (patterns) are retained in both the enthusiast and the consumer iterations. In some cases, the interfaces were extremely similar, suggesting other values at play in their fate: The Rio PMP300 (1998) and the Apple iPod (2001) both achieved widely different amounts of commercial success. The iPod is a household name for instance, whereas I had never seen the PMP300 before. What struck me was how similar they were at a glance – which brings into question the surrounding systems and societal attitude towards technologies that allow a consumer electronic product to thrive or die. In terms of the iPod in particular “…the value of the device was cemented by its seamlessness with the iTunes music management software”[1]

Maybe I am projecting here, but non-complexity and minimalism are not as intertwined as designers may like to fetishise. In fact, minimalism can be baffling at it’s most beautiful. But as always, design isn’t solely about beauty, and I was reminded of Raymond Loewy’s “Most advanced yet acceptable”┬áprinciple.

The exhibition also explores gestural, democratic and a slew of personal computing devices. There’s even an old Apple I Personal Computer in a suitcase housing.