Kid Pix


October 1, 2014

The talk was a great mix of nostalgia and inspiration for me. I loved hearing about the principles that guided Hickman as he worked, like the idea of contextual menus, so kids never had to look in the menu bar. I was also brought back to my childhood, creating artwork, menus for pretend restaurants, birthday cards, notes, and much more, all in Kid Pix.

Hickman referenced two papers that inspired him– Walt Disney and User Oriented Software and Alan Kay’s Computer Software. Since I work with Alan, I’ve read Computer Software several times, and love the ideas about software being flexible enough to do things that the designer didn’t foresee, and the importance of computer users “creating” rather than just “using” (something that comes up a lot in the Mobilize project).

However, I hadn’t seen the article on Disney before. When I read it, I was surprised to discover I had heard most of the anecdotes before from people in Alan’s group. The article is full of connections between the principles of Disney animators and how they could be applied by software developers. For example, “prepare the audience.” A Disney character will show you what it’s going to do before it begins the action– for example, by bending its knees before a jump. Software should do the same. The author suggests that a slow in/slow out approach to changing things on the screen can help a user be prepared for what is happening, and not get lost in a transition.

Kid Pix accomplished a lot of the goals outlined in these two papers. You could see the tools available to you on the left hand side, and you always knew to expect relevant contextual options to appear at the bottom of the screen. Everything was modifiable, including the Susan Kare-designed font stamps. Hickman explained that he’d loved the hieroglyphic-style font Cairo, designed by Kare for the original Macintosh, so he just “put it back” as the stamps you could use in Kid Pix. As a child, I loved the fact that the stamps were modifiable, and I think the goal of a program that is manipulable all the way down is wonderful for any age level.

One of the unique qualities of Kid Pix, compared to a more standard paint program, is that the process matters as much or more than the final product. Although this had been my experience as a kid, I hadn’t realized that it was explicitly intended to be that way. Listen to Hickman explain,

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The original version of Kid Pix was black and white, but Hickman soon created a second version with the software company Broderbund, which was in color and included sounds. This is the version I have the strongest memories of, although I think we had the black-and-white version first.

I was struck by David Pogue’s review of commercial version, which Hickman showed us.

Kid Pix 1.0

Pros: Brilliant; hilarious; innovative; inexpensive.

Cons: None.

So that gives you something to aspire to, doesn’t it?

If you ever used Kid Pix, its sounds will immediately bring you back. Here is Hickman demoing some of the tools, including the popular eraser bomb tool that cleared the entire screen: {% soundcloud_sound 170212261 %}

If you want to try out the original (black and white) Kid Pix, James Friend has created a Mac emulator that runs it. For Hickman’s complete talk, see this video from Media Leaders or Hickman’s page on Kid Pix, which goes through a lot of the material from his talk. Thanks again to Cross Campus for hosting such a great event!