Keith Ohlfs, man behind macOS pinwheel & much more, passes away at 52

Talented software designer hugely influenced by Steve Jobs

Keith Ohlfs Ohlfs family

Keith Ohlfs

Keith Ohlfs, a talented software UX designer whose claims to fame included working on the operating system at the heart of Steve Jobs' NeXT Computer systems, has died at the age of 52 from a heart attack.

Ohlfs five years ago posted the video seen below in which NeXT Computer debuts in 1988, 8 years before Apple bought the company and adopted many of its concepts in OS X/macOS. Ohlfs created the animation that the computer used to introduce itself and Jobs wrote the text. "Steve was a huge inspiration in my life and his passion was for uncompromising form and function that has shaped my vision for the future of design and technology," Ohlfs wrote.

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Ohlfs himself was an inspiration to others, including a friend and former co-worker at NeXT and WebTV named Jeff Yaksick, who has launched a Giveforward fundraising page to support the wife and two children Ohlfs leaves behind.

Yaksick writes on that page that "Keith was a talented Artist and User Interface Designer, with a passion for making fun and useful experiences for the gadgets we now use day to day. He pretty much single handedly created the Visual Interface and influenced the Interaction Design for the NeXT Computer (Steve Jobs' 2nd Act). Apple bought NeXT in 1996 and some of Keith's influence still lives on in MacOS today. The spinning rainbow wait cursor is based on his original (which referenced the NeXT optical disk) and every time you type in your password incorrectly, and the login panel shakes 'no' that's his delightful touch. In addition there is Apple color panel, complete with drag and drop color swatches and transparency, which has changed little since Keith designed it for NeXTSTEP decades ago."

Yaksick also passed along this remembrance of Ohlfs from Paul Mercer, Mac System 7 Finder engineer:

"I was deeply affected (astounded really) when I saw Keith's seminal 2-bit monochrome design work for the NeXT Machine at Davies Symphony Hall all those years ago. I vividly remember rushing back to the office to pin the brochure with the beautiful screenshots next to the elevators on the third floor of DeAnza 3, where Mac System Software lived. I wanted to inspire everyone at Apple because it was clear that NeXT had moved the needle forward...

His work continues to influence the pixels we see and touch everyday. We will miss you."

Ohlfs in recent years has worked for several companies, including VUDU, Pixelsight, Fanhattan and most recently, as head of UX for Montage Studio, according to his LinkedIn profile.

(Hat tip on this news to Techcrunch.)

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