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Bill Moggridge, early laptop designer, dies at age 69

The industrial designer crafted the Grid Compass, a clamshell computer that debuted in 1982 and that is widely regarded as the first laptop computer.

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Bill Moggridge, early laptop designer. Ideo

Bill Moggridge, an early designer of portable computers with flip-open screens like those in use today, has died at age 69.

The British-born industrial designer died of cancer yesterday in San Francisco, according to the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, where Moggridge had served as director since 2010.

In 1979, Moggridge designed the Grid Compass, a clamshell computer with a display that closed over the keyboard. Widely regarded as the first laptop, the Compass debuted in 1982 at a retail price of $8,150.

Made of a magnesium alloy case, the compass featured an Intel 8086 processor, a 320×240-pixel electroluminescent display and a 1,200-bps modem. Its high price and specialized operating system limited its market to the U.S. military, but it did go into space when NASA started using it on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985.

Nearly every laptop since has used some element of Moggridge's clamshell. And while Moggridge's name appears on the clamshell patent, the patent rights were assigned to Grid, which was acquired by Tandy in 1988.

Astronaut John Creighton poses with a Grid Compass aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985. Wikipedia

A pioneer at crossing the boundary between hardware and interface design, Moggridge co-founded the design consultancy firm Ideo in 1991. He served as a consulting associate professor in the field of design at Stanford University from 1983 to 2010, and was a visiting professor in interaction design at Royal College of Art in London in 1993.

He went on to author "Designing Interactions," a history of interaction design that was published in 2006 and included interviews with Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. He followed that in 2010 with "Designing Media," an examination of various media, new and old, that was published in 2010.

Moggridge received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 at the National Design Awards, and the Prince Philip Designers Prize in 2010.

"Beloved by the museum staff and the design community at large, Bill touched the lives of so many through his wise council, boundary-pushing ideas and cheerful camaraderie," Caroline Baumann, associate director of the museum, said in a statement.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Karin, and two sons, Alex and Erik.

Cooper-Hewitt created this video tribute to Moggridge: