The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

Summary: Kai Krause is one of the most influencial GUI designers ever. Most early Macheads will remember the crazy interfaces he built for Kai's Power Tools (KPT) -- a series of Photoshop plug-ins.

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Kai Krause is one of the most influencial GUI designers ever. He changed it all. From his bio on Edge.org:

The real success of the software was in pioneering revolutionary interfaces, deeper concepts of realtime interaction, and aethetic designs of organic shapes, rounded edges, soft shadows and layers which are now many years later standard parts of OSX and XP.

Most early Macheads will remember the crazy interfaces he built for Kai's Power Tools (KPT) -- a series of effect plug-ins for Photoshop. Here's KPT convolver as an example:

Pretty advanced for 1992.

He has basically vanished for five years. Totally disappeared. Hidden in a towering castle in Germany working on a "mysterious project."

His website, ByteBurg.de is pretty much bare, except for two doors. When you click on the door with the American flag, there's a small passage of text that reads:

Clicking on the German door yields a lot more information. Check in out in Google translate. (thanks to Ad Astra in the TalkBack).

I wonder what he's been up too, and can't wait to find out.

Tip: Ed Potter

Topics: Software Development, Apple, Browser, Operating Systems, Software

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19 comments
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  • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

    I'm pretty sure the success of the software was actually its functionality. The UI's were generally impossible to learn/use, and that's why you don't see UI's like that anymore.
    AdamzP
    • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

      @AdamzP
      I completely agree about the UI from Kai's Power Tools and Kai's Power Goo. I found the UI layout to be awkward and button labels/icons were unintuitive. The actual tech behind the tools was quite impressive, however.

      As you can see in the main article's sample image, a lot of screen (over half!) is dominated by the UI and white space. When I do graphic work, I want to see MORE of my image and less of assorted menus, toolbars, and buttons.

      Most frustrating, and an issue I still have with a number of current mainstream applications (eg Windows Media Player, MS Office (can't quickly think of any Mac examples (much as I seem to fight with iMovie, I feel its a functionality problem and not the UI))), are programs that eschew the operating system's established UI conventions. Instead of something that feels integrated and has menus/buttons that are consistent with other applications, the user has to learn yet another UI in order to be efficiently productive. (How I loathed those early GUI days when every application had its own open/save/copy/cut/paste icons...)
      R_Connelie@...
  • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

    If you run the German side through Google Translate, you'll learn a lot more.
    Ad Astra
  • Research before reporting

    I agree. If one wants to be a reported then research the topic before start writing!
    Bjarne-Winkler
  • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

    His mega-rich, lives in a castle on the Rhein river that he calls Byteburg, enjoys time with his friends, and likes his privacy. What else is there to know?
    Hopefully he's enjoying himself.
    Agnostic_OS
  • Seriously?

    This article is like a teaser trailer for a movie that lost its funding half way through. We are not likely going to see a complete anything and if and when we do it will probably be outdated and outmoded.
    kwabinalars
    • Do you think....

      @kwabinalars you could hold Kai's jockstrap?
      godsfault
  • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

    Kai Krause products (function) nd their interfaces were amazing. I used to beg my big software company clients to hire him to try to explain why his interfaces could make big, complex software products more accessible.

    I can't wait to see what he's coming up with.
    amywohl
  • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

    I worked with Kai during those years... and I must agree, there were those who found our style of interface to be annoying or difficult... but honestly, to paraphrase Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror, we didn't make it for them ;)

    Rather, there was a huge, untapped demographic of people for whom computers and interfaces had not yet spoken a language that made sense - and those folks were giddy with enthusiasm and support for what we were doing.

    We knew we were breaking some eggs, and tipping some sacred cows, but we were also, as Kai used to say, "pushing the bell curve a little to the right," bringing new users into the fold, and importantly, having a hell of a lot of fun doing it :)
    Phil Clevenger
    • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

      @Phil Clevenger

      Sounds like the typical babble of deconstructionists.

      The first paragraph pretty much admits that Kai interfaces were not for people actually trying to achieve anything purposeful with the tools that utilized them.

      What's sad is there are still some PhotoShop plugins (and stand alone apps) that operate the same, and they are still next to impossible to achieve anything consistent and useful with them.

      Great for generating eye-candy, but not much else.
      JonA_z
      • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

        @JonA_z<br><br>"The first paragraph pretty much admits that Kai interfaces were not for people actually trying to achieve anything purposeful with the tools that utilized them."<br><br>You might want to try rereading that paragraph. While I am agnostic on the topic in general, the first paragraph simply said nothing of the kind.<br>It is YOUR narrow focus and bias that is causing you to assign all members of the category "people actually trying to achieve anything purposeful" to the category of "those who found our style of interface to be annoying or difficult."<br><br>There is NO logical reason to do so. Certainly, from the posts here, it can be seen that a number of people who had purposeful work to do (at least from their perspective) did NOT fall into the category of people who found the interface troubling, but instead were empowered by it.<br><br>This is either a matter of a simple failure in English comprehension, or (or possibly and) a bias so deeply ingrained that you can't manage to see your way around it.
        DeusXMachina
    • More than "bringing new users into the fold"

      @Phil Clevenger Power Tool and the other Kai products removed the constraints that limited, or perhaps inhibited, a lot of [i]existing[/i] users. Yeah, maybe the pre-press guys or the hard-core image manipulators hated it, but a lot of creative and artistic types were suddenly able to do incredible things with Photoshop, not because the functionality wasn't there but because they now had a tool they "got" and was more conducive to their "artist" brain. During my brief foray at design school I saw classmates who couldn't get anything out of vanilla PS suddenly blow everyone away with inventive and, to me at least, almost unimaginable stuff once they had Power Tools installed. To me that is the true power of a UI.
      matthew_maurice
  • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

    I used to use Kais power tools back in the day and my feelings were at that time there was alot of "discovery" with this new found tech. I think his interfaces promoted discovery and happy accidents which for me as an artist is very important. There is too much stagnation right now as everything looks the same...much like the music business!
    steev7
  • I don't miss the ulgy UI's

    Glad the 90's are done with. UI's were ugly as hell back then.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

    Kai's tools/GUI's were in fact very functional, so much so that specific effects could be achieved, at the time, in no other way. JonA_z, R_Connelie@, AdamzP you have your collective minds closed to what you do not understand. It really is a simple concept; what is treasure to one, is trash to another. Remember, Mr. Krause is a philosopher, applying that discipline to our world of graphical user interfaces...it's no small wonder some just don't "get it".
    Peace
    PixelPup
  • UI's

    I too worked with Kai, and personally I loved the interfaces. It was these, and the great generosity and genius of Kai that got me to MetaTools/MetaCreations. I must say that being the product manager of Convolver was a nightmare. This was the UI that was least successful.
    Kai was a great influence, affecting many including Apple and Adobe, who freely copied aspects of the UI. Although Kai was the center of a very creative team, he was greatly assisted ny Phil Clevenger, Kai Gradert, and Athena Kekenes who were each in their own way inspired creators. Kai was able to get the most from all those who would avail themselves of his energies.
    I hope he is doing well in Byteburg, and look forward to his reappearance.
    John Feld
  • still controversial after all these years

    I, too, worked with Kai back in those days; it was an amazing time! Anyone who talks trash about our work is just jealous. Seriously, though, I'm delighted to see what a controversial figure he is even after all this time. All part of being a pioneer.
    iangilman
  • twas a magical time...

    I didn't work with Kai directly but knew (know?) him.

    Any interface needs to be learned... As an example - many people who switch from a PC running Windows has a difficult time learning Apple's Macintosh OS interface even though the Mac i, rightly so, long known for it's ease of use.

    The nice thing about cool interfaces is once over the hump of learning it (it doesn't take that long!), it becomes the "personality" of the program. I use Adobe Lightroom and had to get used to it's interface and now I love it. It gets out of the way when I want it to and is incredibly powerful and intuitive. I hear a former employee of MetaCreations designed Lightroom's interface. ; )

    Anyway, I think Kai's strength at Meta was not so much the actual interface design but his influence over how the interface related to the program - "Interface Philosophy?" Most of the sphere's and sliders and doohickies made perfect sense when interacting with the programs. His other big strength was marketing. I'd argue that is his stronger skill. He has an ability to tease just enough to work up a frenzy about a new program. Just keep him away from corporate "suits"!

    I am glad we are out of the 90s - it was an amazing time of experimentation and exploration into creativity on the computer. I think we are all enjoying much of the fruit of that experimentation now.

    I have yet to see any program nowadays that gets me as excited as programs such as Kai's Power Tools or Bryce did back then. It was a truly magical time!

    David (Space7) Palermo
    davidpalermo
  • RE: The most mysterious man in the world? Kai Krause

    I wasn't really impressed with Kai's interfaces. They were different without really being better. You had to look everywhere for the exit button.

    For great interfaces at the time, there was CorelDraw. Less was more.
    geewhizbang