Kid Pix Paint Program Went From Idea to Mass Success With Craig Hickman


Our friends at Cross Campus in Santa Monica partnered with RKS Design to host Craig Hickman, Developer of Kid Pix Paint Program. Craig shared facts about Kid Pix Paint Program and an interesting story behind its creation process.

Kid Pix facts:

  • The original Kid Pix has 8-bit graphics, 680x480 dimensions and doesn’t run on modern computers. (00:01-1:00)
  • Kid Pix is one of the very last garage-type pieces of software that made it big. (1:20-1:33)

About Craig Hickman:

He started out in photography and still is a photographer. He currently teaches photography and digital arts at the University of Oregon.

I have not taken a single programming class. I have done all these out of interest and determination. - Craig Hickman (1:02-1:16)

Hickman shows the first program he wrote (7:21)

I spent a lot of time counting pixels and how to make something as big and clear and understandable as possible - Craig Hickman (7:28-7:39)

  • Hickman shows art books ‘Signal to Noise’ and ‘Dry Reading’ that pre-dates Kid Pix, as well as some other programs he authored (7:58-9:05)

Important influences (9:08-13:20)

  • In 1984 or 1985, Hickman was inspired by Walt Disney’s take on user interface. “Make it interesting. A character never simply walked from one place to another: too dull. He might be angry and show in the way he walks; he might drag something along; he might scratch his head. Be he would do some piece of business that was in character, advanced the story and was interesting.”
  • Alan Kay from Scientific American “Computers are to computing as instruments are to music. Software is a score, whose interpretation amplifies our reach and lifts our spirit.”
  • ‘Inside Macintosh’ and ‘Macintosh Human Interface Guideline’
  • He started programming in Pascal and wrote Camera, an interactive simulated camera for teaching basic photography. It demonstrated the difference between film speed and shutter speed in real time. (13:21-14:29)
  • Paint Programs that pre-dates Kid Pix: He shows a photo of Ivan Sutherland using Sketchpad, a man-machine graphical communication system in 1963. (14:33-15:20) Then he shows Macintosh’s MacPaint by Bill Atkinson in 1984. (15:22-15:58)

Principles he applied in creating Kid Pix

  1. The Prime Directive: The programs should be extremely easy to use. No manuals should be needed and the program features should explain themselves through use. All tasks should be able to be performed in the simplest, most straightforward way. The programs should go out of its way to meet the user. (18:25-18:42)
  2. As long as the prime directive is not violated, every opportunity should be taken to make the program surprising and satisfying to use. No opportunity should be missed but process of making a picture should be as important as the picture produced. (18:48-19:01)
  3. The programs should, in some way, expand the concept of what computer programs are, as well as what marketing can be. (19:39-19:46)

  • Hickman demos a web-based fully functional version of Kid Pix 1.0 Free Version (20:50-25:14)
  • Hickman shows the manual and 2 floppy disks that came with Kid Pix Professional. He sold around 100 copies of the program at $25 a pop. (26:16-27:33)
  • Broderbund became the publisher of Kid Pix (27:40)
  • Kid Pix was featured on the keynote speech at Mac World and the next issue of MacWeek Magazine with the headline “Kid Pix Upstages Sculley.” (30:10-30:54)
  • Kid Pix 1.0 packaging (32:17)
  • Hickman shows his favorite review of Kid Pix 1.0 (32:37-33:25)

The programmer, Craig Hickman, originally wrote Kid Pix for his son, who loved MacPaint but kept launching desk accessories and bringing up dialog boxes by mistake. For a while, it was a shareware offering, and it’s finally been picked up and polished to a shine by Broderbund. Dear Mr. Hickman: You have created a masterpiece. Thank you for your imagination, whimsy, and attention to detail. Now write us a word processor. –David Pogue

  • McPaint won the Software Program’s Association Award for the Best User Interface of Any Program of the Year. (33:25)
  • Hickman adds new features to Kid Pix and demos the new version (4:18-42:00)


Q: What’s your inspiration day to day? (40:06-42:20)

I suppose just walking around and looking at things.

Q: When you switched Kid Pix to Spanish, did you change the sound effects for the letters? (42:21-42:50)

Yes, I did. There are some problems with not fixing the first version later on. The Ñ is considered a different letter in the alphabet so that had to be added to move things around.

Q: Do you consider yourself a photographer, inventor or a computer programmer? (42:54-43:10)

That’s a good question. I guess all of those things, or depends on the day.

Q: When you designed Kid Pix, you didn’t really wire it for too much sketching. Do you think that has an effect on the final product? (43:50-44:45)

Yes, and that’s just something that would not work if you’re working with other people. I just get an idea, sit down, and start programming. I think that definitely changes the outcome, whether it’s the best method or not –I don’t know. Probably isn’t. I actually always do start with some kind of sketching, but once I get started, it’s just all programming –try this, try this. Today, if you’re working with programmers, everything is specialized. They have already been organized.

Q: How many units of Kid Pix were sold? (44:49-45:43)

That’s a good question. I didn’t get into it but I wonder that myself. Broderbund was fantastic though. I think a lot were sold.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who doesn’t have a technical knowhow but still has a simple idea like that? (46:13-46:42)

Have a good relationship and communication with the programmer. You have to have someone who has a similar sense of aesthetics or attitude that understands you.

Q: In retrospect, would you have done anything differently? (46:44-47:42)

In retrospect, sure there are some things. For the most part, at least in the beginning, I wouldn’t change too much. They were great. But as they say, the contract is really only as good as the person who’s signing you.

Q: What’s your next big adventure? (47:48-47:16)

I’m going to retire. I kind of work on the physical computing things a fair amount. An iPad thing would be fun to do. That’s on my list but it doesn’t quite make it on the top.

Q: Where are you based now? (48:19-48:20)

Eugene, Oregon.

Q: What do you constantly innovate? Is this the process? Is it the experimentation? (48:24-49:05)

I can only say it was for me. Since I can program it myself, I can have an idea and immediately realize it. Also, no one cared what I did. I could do anything I wanted and I think that was really free. I guess part of it was just go ahead and do it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work out and people are going to like it but it’s more likely that you’re going to come up with something more innovative.

Q: When you start a brand new program, do you start by drawing interface first or do you actually start coding first? (49:17-50:10)

I draw the interface first. You have to have that basic interface first before you can start programming so you have some space to make something happen.

Q: When you first started programming, did you foresee how photography can marry programming down the line? Did you know that they would come together so well or did you see them as two separate patterns? (50:16-51:16)

No, they were completely separate. Even now, they kinda come together but in my studio, I have the photo side and the electronic side. They are a lot closer now than before.

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