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Although many may not realize due to the simplicity and elegance, the original Apple mouse took a painstaking amount of time as well as hard work to help it come to fruition. The pioneer of this remarkable engineering wonder is Jim Yurchenco, where he was responsible for fitting all the necessary components inside the impossibly small Palm V mouse. With around 80 patents, the celebrated engineer has now retired and the good folks over at WIRED had the pleasure of sitting down with him to talk about his incredible journey. Enjoy the short video along with excerpts from the read below and head over to WIRED for the full story.
Building the Apple Mouse
Yurchenco was just a year or two out of school when he got a call from an old Stanford pal, David Kelley. Kelley had just started a new design firm and asked if Yurchenco might want to join as an engineer. That meant a proper salary—Yurchenco had been working at a medical tech start-up, being paid mostly in stock—so he agreed. The company was called Hovey-Kelley; Ideo was still a few years off at that point. But thanks to co-founder Dean Hovey’s relationship with Jobs, Apple became one of the young company’s first clients.
Becoming a Master of Making
The design process for the Apple mouse embodied a few things that continue to define Ideo. For one, it was very much a hands-on affair. “We were always making stuff,” Yurchenco remembers. “Prototyping as fast, as dirty, as rapidly as possible.” Ideo predates CAD, 3-D printing, and CNC, at least insofar as any of those technologies were cheap enough for a fledgling design studio to afford.
Yurchenco worked primarily with pencil and paper, and for years his most sophisticated tool was an HP calculator. Today’s powerful workflows, which let you build a fully-realized product in a piece of software and then command machines to materialize it in the same room, simply didn’t exist back then. You just had to build stuff yourself, piece by piece.
The Secret: Keep Asking the Same Questions
Yurchenco has had a ground-level view of the design industry from the start of the personal computer revolution. So what’s changed?
For one, he says, concerns like usability have become a major part of the design process from the beginning. That involves questions like: How do people react to a product? And how might they abuse it? What will they do wrong, and how can the product help prevent them from doing that? “If our design is allowing them to do something wrong, it’s not their fault. It’s our fault,” he says.