50 Shades of Beige (2018)

(sciencemuseum.org.uk)

51 points | by tosh 44 days ago

13 comments

  • ggm 44 days ago
    It's a great shame this isn't reddit because then I could do a whole riff on "because none of you have fully rounded lives, let me explain the erotic literature joke in the title" Schick.

    beige because HP and Olivetti. Arguably, Olivetti and CI/Honeywell Bull. Mainly Olivetti and Milan design houses.

    Didn't IBM golfballs come in a range of colours? My memory is you could select from a palette.

    All of this office aesthetic design predates the window in time this talks about. The skandi design palette was similar, beige was a warm neutral tone which didn't clash. IBM blue was nice but very dry.

    Basically, office equipment had been gunmetal, or jappanned black steel for ages before and during the war. Beige was a pretty radical cool colour, if you were used to a gestatner machine or a brunsviga in black.

    My now broken teletype asr33 was beige.

    • mgdlbp 43 days ago
      > Didn't IBM golfballs come in a range of colours?

      The first successful electric typewriters, made by IBM in the 1930s, were matte black, consistent with the glossy black & gold trim standard on typewriters since the very first in the 1870s. This was quite similar to contemporary sewing machines, to which there's an early connection.[0] But black really seems to be the colour scheme of the second industrial revolution, considering the The Model T, a stereotypical steam locomotive, or a ship like the Titanic.

      Grey Became The New Black for typewriters in the late 1940s, and the IBM Model A of 1948 was produced exclusively in a particular shade of dark beige. The 1950s quickly saw a broad spectrum of bright colours; it was 1952 that the IBM's pastel palette was established by the Model B, but photos of surviving examples show that off-greys were still the majority of sales. Saturated colours had caught on by the time of the the Selectric in 1961. Photos of the three generations of Selectric depict the gradual onset of the beige trend in the next decades; the remarkably swift technological progress of the 20th century meant that by the time the last of these typewriters were produced simultaneously to the IBM PC for four years until 1984. In this context, the explanation for the ThinkPad's success that comes to mind isn't exactly good-looking design--if anything, that would be the TrackPoint instead of a black color scheme, as IBM already had made several black laptops.[1]

      (Unsurprisingly considering the reputation of businesses using outdated machines) Two more generations of IBM typewriters actually came after the Selectrics. The later Electronic Selectrics and Wheelwriters were off-white and obsolete upon release, but still found their uses in certain offices. By then, IBM's typewriter division had become its own company, Lexmark, which then turned to making printers. Despite being late to the market, Lexmark managed to pull off an industry-changing move of its own: this time, not with clever engineering, but rather by inventing ink cartridge DRM. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      [0] https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/modelb/modelb_infor...:

      > The influence of the sewing machine division of Remington & Sons showed clearly in the Model 1. While the typewriter itself looked remarkably like present-day machines, it was mounted on a stand similar to a sewing machine table; moreover, the carriage was returned by means of a foot- treadle, and Remington's first advertising billed the "Typewriter" as a machine "the size of a sewing machine, and an ornament to an office, study or sitting room." Continuing, the advertising declared that "it is certain to become indispensable in families as the sewing machine."

      [1] among them, the PS/55 Note Model T22sx amusingly shares the Microsoft Surface's silhouette https://thinkwiki.de/Datei:Ps-55-note-t22sx.jpg

      PS: You can own a Selectric for surprisingly little. Seems like the prices online have already begun to increase, though shipping was never really feasible considering that they're miniature mechanical computers. Most will need an oil change and tuning after all these years, and ironically, a couple of parts subject to high load are plastic and prone to breaking over time. But admiring the engineering and the delightful repair manuals[2] is half the fun, and it's somewhat more reasonable than having a project car, at least.

      [2] Repair video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hVM7AaW3HA / Adjustment manual https://www.marklin-users.net/cookee_nz/hobbies/IBM/IBMSelec...

      • ggm 43 days ago
        Super info! Thanks for posting
  • egypturnash 43 days ago
    Young me rebelled against this and disassembled her computers, painted the cases, and put them back together again. I had a black c64 with the vent lines picked out in red (the Commodore badge was of course masked off before painting), and an Amiga 2000 painted with zebra stripes. One of which went across one of the drive eject buttons, which was painted to match.
    • dusted 43 days ago
      I think everyone did that back then, I painted min with a chrome spray paint, looked awesome, just.. you could never touch it again xD

      These days, I want a beige case, and can't find it, sweet irony.

      • egypturnash 43 days ago
        You could get some beige paint and apply a few coats!
    • earthscienceman 43 days ago
      This is so wonderfully awesome, do you have any photos? Preferably of you standing with the computers!?
  • cfraenkel 43 days ago
    Clearly the author didn't bother looking up any retired designers or engineers from the time, as the article is mostly speculation. There were lots of reasons why beige-ish tones were used. The biggest one was that's what IBM used, so to fit into an office environment, everyone else all followed along. There were practical reasons too: - ABS yellows under uv exposure (sunlight). If you start out yellowish, the fading is much less noticeable. - Beige mid tones hide flow marks really well. It means you didn't have to paint the outer case to get a 'perfect' appearance. The same goes for the comparatively rough textures used back then.
  • setr 43 days ago
    What was Germany up to dictating office colors? Seems to be more than just a standard if IBM actually had to put a label against it to be sold
    • flohofwoe 43 days ago
      See here, page 38: https://www.vbg.de/SharedDocs/Medien-Center/DE/Broschuere/Th...

      It's about reducing eye strain when looking at the display vs keyboard.

      AFAIK it's no longer a requirement though, just one recommendation out of hundreds for office environments.

    • legulere 43 days ago
      My guess is work safety regulations. There are regulations that your desk is big enough, that your chair can be moved and has at least five wheels so that it stands stable. There are also regulations that you need enough (natural) light, which includes that your table needs a light colour. I guess that this was over interpreted into also computers being light colour.
    • globalvoid 43 days ago
      This is exactly what I was wondering. Any search on this subject (in English) just turns up more articles on why computers were beige. What were people or industry being protected against by this regulation? Psychological effects? Waste from discarding mismatched materials? It would be interesting if someone could find the text of the regulation.
    • bschwindHN 43 days ago
      I want to know this too, it's the most bizarre thing in the article.
  • projektfu 43 days ago
    I think of lots of non-beige contemporary computers, though.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amstrad_PPC_512?wprov=sfti1

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshiba_T1000?wprov=sfti1

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_Plus/4?wprov=sfti1

    Just the first few that popped into my head. I think that the beige was a reaction against the 60s/70s asthetic that had a lot of color diversity. At the time in the US, appliances went back to white from green, yellow and copper shades.

  • bobsmooth 43 days ago
    I'm glad retrobrighting was figured out so we can see what these machines used to look like, at least temporarily.
  • Dig1t 43 days ago
    > a German workplace standard came into effect in the late 70s that required light colours for all office equipment.

    What the actual

    How? Why?

    That’s so bizarre.

    • elcapitan 43 days ago
      Being German, I would be more surprised if anything work related wouldn't have a professional standard, e.g. the DIN norms. They exist for everything basic, like business letters (DIN 5008), up to high level concepts like project management (DIN 69901). So of course they also exist in various forms for office equipment. Typically they are created by small committees of experts who more or less formalize what they think is fine.

      With Germany's heavy focus on industry, I could also imagine that having neutral colors generally in all settings was seen as a safety feature by itself because they make it easier to spot colors for warning signs (which you'll have around if you use the computers in a mixed industrial setting).

    • rob74 43 days ago
      I wouldn't put such a decision beyond German bureaucrats, but still I wonder if it's fact or just legend.
      • flohofwoe 43 days ago
        The only modern reference I could find is about keyboard colors in the "DGUV rules for the office business sector" [0], quote from page 38:

        Benefits of light-coloured keyboards

        Light keyboards with dark lettering are better suited to the use of true video on the VDU, i.e. dark characters on a light background. They avoid disturbing differences in brightness and thus save your employee's eyes unnecessary adaptation to these differences. The surfaces of keys become shiny after longer use, as a result of either wear or sweat from the fingers. This is less apparent on light keys than on dark keys.

        PS: the start is a bit poorly translated, the German original [1] is:

        Vorteile von hellen Tastaturen

        Helle Tastaturen mit dunkler Beschriftung passen besser zur Positivdarstellung am Bildschirm (d. h. dunkle Zeichen auf hellem Untergrund). Sie vermeiden störende Helligkeitsunterschiede und ersparen dadurch den Augen Ihrer Beschäftigten unnötige Helligkeitsanpassungen (Adaptationen). Tastenoberflächen glänzen bei längerer Benutzung entweder infolge von Abnutzung oder durch Fingerschweiß. Dies fällt bei hellen Tasten weniger auf als bei dunklen Tasten.

        ...the first part that's poorly translated is basically that if you use dark letters on bright background on the display, it's better if the keyboard is also dark letters on bright background so the eyes don't need to adjust too much.

        ...which in turn means that coders are probably better off with a dark keyboard ;)

        [0] https://www.vbg.de/SharedDocs/Medien-Center/DE/Broschuere/Th...

        [1] https://www.vbg.de/SharedDocs/Medien-Center/DE/Broschuere/Th...

        • prmoustache 43 days ago
          I don't think any coder (or any professionnal required to type a lot) need to look at his keyboard anyway, I don't think their eyes would suffer regardless of the color.
  • rob74 43 days ago
    The title "50 Shades of Beige" made me think that actually "in the field" you would encounter an infinity of shades of beige and related colors, depending on age of the equipment, ambient temperature, sunlight exposure, amount of cigarette smoke etc.
  • t099863578 43 days ago
    Yay! Sharp MZ80K. My first proper computer. Build like a tank. Came with 48k RAM, a Pascal interpreter and a booklet listing the source code of its firmware.
  • Nihilartikel 43 days ago
    I bet beige hardware really stood up well in an office where cigarette smoking was allowed!
  • amelius 43 days ago
    It's because sand contains a lot of silicon and sand is beige :)
  • geocrasher 43 days ago
    I love it when a title is so apt that you instantly know what you're going to find, even before the click. I'm glad the beige blurgh is over!
    • afandian 43 days ago
      It's not gone, it just changed colour. The featureless, black, glass slab is IMHO worse. At least with beige you had some exciting designs, such as that STARLET.