Bill Moggridge

If there is a simple, easy principle that binds everything I have done together, it is my interest in people and their relationship to things.
Bill Moggridge

William (Bill) Moggridge (1943-2012)
William (Bill) Moggridge (1943-2012)

William Grant “Bill” Moggridge (1943-2012), a British designer, author, and educator, is known as a pioneer of interaction design (he coined the term) and one of the first people to integrate human factors into the design of software and hardware. In 1972, he worked on his first computer project, a minicomputer (the size of a sewing machine) for the UK company Computer Technology Ltd, which was never produced.

In contrast to this, his next computer design—the remarkable GRiD Compass, ordered in 1979 by the start-up Californian company Grid Systems, is widely regarded as the first laptop computer in the world. This was the first portable computer with a display that closed over the keyboard, a patented innovation that Grid Systems licensed for many years (see the US patent of GRiD).

Moggridge designed the computer in 1979, but the first GRiD Compass (the computer was announced in marketing materials as Model 1100, but it did not exist, the released machine was the Model 1101) was released in April 1982, at price 8150 USD. Along with the Sharp PC-5000 and Gavilan SC computers, released in 1983, the GRiD Compass established much of the basic design of subsequent laptop computers, although the laptop concept itself owed much to the Dynabook project of Alan Kay.

GRiD Compass, model 1101 (source:
GRiD Compass, model 1101 (source:

The design of GRiD Compass (see the nearby image) used a clamshell-style die-cast case (where the screen folds flat to the rest of the computer when closed), which was made from a magnesium-alloy (GRiD had the patent on the clamshell idea). The size of the machine was 38 (H) × 29 (D) × 5 (H) cm.

The computer featured an Intel 8086 processor (8MHz) with 8087 math coprocessor, 256KB DRAM (up to 512KB), a 6-inch 320×240-pixel bright (80 chars × 25 lines text), sharp electroluminescent monochrome (yellow-on-black) display, 384K internal magnetic bubble memory (it is a type of non-volatile computer memory, developed by Andrew Bobeck in 1960s, that uses a thin film of a magnetic material to hold small magnetized areas, known as bubbles or domains, each storing one bit of data), and a 300/1200 baud modem.

I/O ports are RS-232/422 serial and GPIB parallel (Grid Processor Interface Bus), which allowed daisy-chaining of multiple computers. The keyboard was full-stroke 57 keys.

GRiD Compass, model 1101, back view (source:
GRiD Compass, model 1101, back view (source:

External devices such as hard drives and floppy drives (10 Meg hard drive/5.25-inch floppy drive combo or 360K 5.25-inch floppy drive model) could be connected via the IEEE-488 I/O. The power input is ~110/220 V, 47–66 Hz, 75 W.

The GRiD Compass ran its own operating system, GRiD-OS, which was a full-function, menu-oriented, and powerful operating system. The suite included also several applications: GRiDManager (communication and utility functions), GRiDPrint (control format and appearance of text files), GRiDPlan (electronic worksheets), GRiDFile (database utilities), GRiDPlot (converts data to graphs), GRiDBASIC (high-level programming language), and GRiDWrite (full-screen text editor).

GRiD Compass in a Space Shuttle in 1985 (source:
GRiD Compass in a Space Shuttle in 1985

Originally developed for business executives (who else can afford a personal computer for 8–10000 USD at that time?), GRiD Compasses were also used by the U.S. government, the U.S. military in the field (naval vessels, attached to paratroopers, etc.), and by NASA on the Space Shuttles during the 1980s (see the nearby image). It’s even believed that the US President’s nuclear football at one time included a GRiD computer.

The portable Osborne 1 computer sold at around the same time as the Compass (at the beginning of the 1980s), although lacked Compass’s refinement and portable size, was a cheaper and more popular device, moreover, it ran the popular CP/M operating system.

Biography of Bill Moggridge

William (Bill) Moggridge (1943-2012)
William Grant (Bill) Moggridge (1943-2012)

William Grant “Bill” Moggridge was born in London on 25 June 1943, to Helen Mary Ferrier (Taylor) Moggridge (1900–1989) and Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Weston Moggridge (1880–1960) (married in 1935, it was second marriage for both of them). Helen was a painter, draughtsman, printmaker, and teacher, and Henry was a civil servant, who served in the Army and was appointed Companion, Order of St. Michael and St. George for taking part in WWI. William had an elder brother, Harry Traherne “Hal” (born 1936), who became an architect.

Moggridge studied industrial design from 1962 to 1965 at the Central School of Art and Design, London. In 1965, he went to the US to find opportunities as a designer and landed his first job as a designer for the American Sterilizer Co. in Erie, Pennsylvania, designing hospital equipment. In 1969, Moggridge returned to London to study typography and communications and founded his first company, Moggridge Associates.

Moggridge returned to the US in 1979 to open another office, called ID Two, in Palo Alto, California. Later he also began teaching at Stanford University (1983-2010). In 1991, Moggridge became a co-founder of IDEO (an innovation and design firm with offices around the world) and stayed there until 2010, when he became director of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York.

Besides two patents for portable computers (one technical and one for design), Moggridge had a patent for a computer keyboard (Des. 267879) and a word processor (Des. 288567). As his career progressed, he moved away from physical design as he became increasingly interested in interaction design. His books included “Designing Interactions” (2006) and “Designing Media” (2010). He received many awards that included the Prince Philip Designers Prize, a prestigious British honor.

Moggridge married Karin Helbig Hansen, on 15 April 1966. They had two children: Eric Giffard, and Alex Zacho.

Bill Moggridge died at a hospice in San Francisco on 8 September 2012 (aged 69), the cause was cancer.