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Enlighten Me: The man who made tech user friendly

Courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library
This publicity photograph from RCA emphasizes the wealth and prestige of the first television viewers posed in front of the TRK-12 RCA receiver

Many people listen to the radio in their cars, or if they're a little old school maybe they listen to a tabletop radio at home. But how many people think about the layout of the radio dial or how the knobs and buttons feel in their fingers? 

In our latest Enlighten Me segment,  Delaware Public Media's Mark Arehart chats with author Danielle Shapiro.  They discuss Shapio's new book on industrial designer John Vassos, the man who made radio and television a pleasure to interact with and how the research library at the Hagley Museum in Wilmington helped unearth his work.

Vassos worked for RCA in the 1930s and 40s designing much of what we take for granted today, like user friendly knobs and buttons.

"All the kind of major mass media technologies of the 20th Century he had a hand in, such as radio, television, computers, as well as broadcast equipment (and) T.V. cameras," Shapiro said.

In the mid-1900s technology hadn’t seeped into everyday American life like it has today.

It wasn’t until she was able to delve into RCA’s trade publications, housed at the Hagley Museum, that Shapiro found Vassos’ designs.

She said much like the knobs in a car stereo, his legacy is often overlooked.

"He created very tactile knobs. He changed the way the tuning was done in the radio. It was no longer an airplane or circular mechanism; he made it from left to right."

Danielle Shapiro is giving a talk on her book John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life at the Hagley Museum in Wilmington March 16.