Deconstructing Product Design
Learned how to type on this machine. Excellent feel on the keys, with a light initial touch, a semi-hard stop and bang, the typeball hits the paper. Modern keyboards would do well to emulate this tactility.
This is one of the first real product designs I ever noticed and fell in love with. I couldn’t yet type, but as a child I would literally spend hours imaging how I was using the typewriter as a control for a spaceship or some other amazing adventure. It was just wonderful to run my hands over the curves and feel the texture on the casing and the great response from the keys.
I wish I still had mine!@! I see this wonderful unit in offices still to date. It is terrific with multi copy contracts! The unit just never breaks and is a joy to type on.
I too learned on this unit… well, after I did a manual in school. But, first job and last job all had one of these selectrics!
I’ll take one if anyone has it to get rid of!!
Wow, the IBM Selectric! I LOVE THIS TYPEWRITER! Just looking at this photo brings back fond memories of the feel and the sound of this machine. I was envious of the kids in high school typing class who were assigned to sit at these that first year. I learned on a manual typewriter, but the second year, Yay! I must have earned enough typing points to be assigned a seat at the selectric. Some of the adjectives coming to mind are: sleek, sophisticated and smooth. There is something metropolitan about this design, but there was nothing else that matched the feel of the keys. The faster my typing got, the more I felt as one with the machine. I still feel that with my laptop and computer at work, but that first time merging with that machine to produce written words that were perfectly aligned and tabbed, is one of those moments in time that cannot be reproduced. I realize I have gone a little overboard, but I bet there are many others out there with similar memories. Thanks for the opportunity to share and take a trip down memory lane! Lisa C.
The miracle of the Selectric was its dancing print ball, an ingenious innovation over the bits of type on swing arms in a manual typewriter. Those swing arms were all of different lengths which equated to a different inertial feel on the various keys. Indeed, the keys with the worst feel were the longest ones at the extreme ends of the keyboard. The problem was compounded by these worst keys requiring activation by the user’s weakest and clumsiest fingers, the pinkies.
The Selectric’s print ball solved this annoyance by clustering all the bits of type near the print point. A key press by the user signaled motors and solenoids to spin and twist the print ball small distances before it leaped toward the ribbon. The electro-mechanical connection between keyboard and paper allowed every key to feel exactly the same, enabling just about anyone to increase their typing speed and productivity.
I recall watching the ballet of the print ball in amazement. It moved faster than I could see! I marveled at the minds of those who created it.
While I get the impression the Selectric is a pinnacle of something-or-other (I mean that with all real serious due respect), I think I’ve heard it said that if you want to exercise your hands and avoid RSI it is better to use a crappy manual typewriter where you really do have to exert yourself. Still, RSI is a very individually tailored affliction, so for some it is moot here.
Eliot Noyes’ masterpiece lost its soul when IBM evolved Selectric II and III … the Selectric I came in beige, red, green, black, turquoise, and orange! I spent 3 years in physical therapy after being rear-ended by a semi … my Selectric I in the back seat was fine. It is still used where triplicate contracts need to be typed up … Microsoft couldn’t solve that one.
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