Modern Design - Inventing the Mouse

Jim Yurchenko recently retired after 35 years as a designer and innovator at IDEO in Palo Alto, California. Originally a sculptor and Stanford student whose tool of choice was an arc welder he spent much of his time in the design shop learning all about tools and the art of making things. We as consumers owe him a debt for his work on the Palm V and most famously the first mouse for the Apple Lisa in 1983. He credits his early shop rat days for his lifelong successful methodology – hang around shops, watch, and learn. About injection molding, he says,“…I’ve been to 300 shops and seen 300 ways of doing it. And the more you know how to make things, the better designer you’re going to be.”
The mouse story starts with Steve Jobs touring Xerox PARC in Palo Alto and seeing the mouse that drove the lab’s graphical user interface. It fell to Yurchenko to redesign the guts of this $400 tool for Apple.  “It was obviously way too complicated for what Jobs needed, which was a really low cost, easily manufacturable, reproducible product for consumers,” Yurchenco recalls. His inspiration was to marry the Atari arcade game trackball to the system, and rely on gravity rather than Xerox’s original intricate mechanical switches. The Atari machine also applied optics to track the trackball’s movement, using interrupted beams of light. Yurchenco borrowed this concept, further simplifying the internal components.
Asked about what has changed in design thinking over 35 years 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.”
As we say…The lives that occupy the work inspire the body of work.