Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad is one of the most influential computer programs ever written. Sketchpad was the first program to have a graphic user interface. Using a light pen, users could draw directly on the screen. Prior to Sketchpad, no one had ever drawn engineering drawings directly on a computer display. After 40 years, ideas introduced in Sketchpad still influence how every computer user thinks about computing.
Sutherland studied Electrical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and then went to MIT for his Ph.D. His revolutionary thesis, “Sketchpad: A Man-machine Graphical Communications System” was considered the first Graphical User Interface.
The Sketchpad used drawing as a novel communication medium for a computer. The system contained input, output, and computation programs which enable it to interpret information drawn directly on a computer display. It was used to draw electrical, mechanical, scientific, mathematical, and animated drawings. It also made fundamental contributions in the area of human–computer interaction. The program exploited the light-pen, predecessor of the mouse, allowing the user to point at and interact with objects displayed on the screen. The Sketchpad was also renowned for its modernity as it embraced new technologies (it ran on the Lincoln TX-2 computer, an innovative machine designed in 1956).
Sutherland has contributed numerous ideas to the study of Computer Graphics and Computer Interaction. He introduced concepts such as 3-D computer modeling, visual simulations, computer aided design (CAD) and virtual reality. In 1968, together with his student Bob Sproull, Sutherland created the first virtual reality and augmented reality head-mounted display system, named The Sword of Damocles.