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William Moggridge, Designer and Laptop Pioneer, Dies at 69

By Austin Amuzie - Monday, September 10, 2012

Just after he had presciently opened a product design business in Silicon Valley in 1979, William Moggridge was hired by a start-up firm, Grid Systems, to design a new type of computer — one that could fit into a briefcase.

Mr. Moggridge’s ingenious solution was a clamshell case, roughly 15 by 12 inches, which popped open to reveal a luminous screen on top that folded over the keyboard on bottom. The Compass, as this groundbreaking laptop was called, went on sale for about $8,000. Although the price was too high for the average consumer, the Compass was popular with the military and made trips aboard the space shuttle starting in 1983.

Mr. Moggridge, who died on Saturday at 69, was not only the designer of that first laptop; he is also widely viewed as a father of the field of interaction design, a discipline that focuses on improving the human experience of digital products.

He died at a hospice in San Francisco. The cause was cancer, said Jennifer Northrop, a spokeswoman for the museum.

In his book “Designing Interactions” (2006), Mr. Moggridge wrote: “I had the experience of a lifetime developing a design that was innovative in so many ways. I developed the way that the screen was hinged to fold down over the keyboard for carrying. This geometry accounted for only one of the 43 innovative features in the utility patent that we were awarded.

Mr. Moggridge took the helm of the Cooper Hewitt design museum in 2010, only a year after it awarded him a lifetime achievement award. Soon after, he also won the Prince Philip Designers Prize, Britain’s most prestigious design award.

William Grant Moggridge was born in London on June 25, 1943, to Helen and Henry Weston Moggridge. His mother was an artist and his father was a civil servant. He studied industrial design at the Central St. Martins College of Art and Design (formerly Central School of Design) in London and founded Moggridge and Associates there in 1969. He opened a new design firm called ID Two in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1979.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Karin; their sons, Alex and Erik; and his brother, Hal.

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