Dean Hovey on the Stanford Design Program

Source: Interview with Dean Hovey, 22 June 2000.

Cannibalizing Appliances

Pang: One of the stories Jim Sachs told involved your spouse discovering that kitchen appliances stopped functioning because you needed some part from the refrigerator, or the toaster, and you cannibalized it--

Jim Sachs tells this story in his interview.

Hovey: I don't remember what it was, but that wouldn't surprise me in the least. When you're in one of those modes where you're building something, and you need a part, and it's already past time when the stores are open, but you're in the middle of it-- if there was a switch or there was something you had, you figure, "Either I can stop and wait, or I can go forward; so I wreck it, but it'll be $20 to fix it, it's no big deal." But when you're in the midst of the passion of designing, you just do it.

Stanford Design Program

I think that partially came out of the Stanford design program, which we all came out of. There was a very interesting loft area where all the designers used to hang out. It was a very crazy space. There were bins and piles of stuff with wires coming out of them, and gears, and chips, and we often would rummage through those piles for that little treasure that would make our switch flip, or our widget move. We just kept that tradition: you just find what you need, and get it done.

Pang: That brings up a larger question about the Stanford program. Everyone in Hovey-Kelley comes out of there, and some people at Apple-- Jerry Manock, Bill Dresselhaus-- who were also products of that program. I'm trying to piece together whether there are features or qualities in the mouse that reflect the training or the influence of the product design program. There's a style of working that you see, with rapid prototyping, and putting things through a bandsaw to get what you need--

David Kelley, Jim Sachs, Jim Yurchenco and Rickson Sun all talk in interviews about the Stanford program's influence on them.

Hovey: The product design program at Stanford-- and I'll say this affectionately-- Bob McKim particularly was trying to create little Leonardo da Vincis, a person who was diverse in their expertise, skilled in many things, and diverse enough to create a whole product. However, in today's work, with technology moving so rapidly, it's very difficult to grasp all those disciplines in one head, and make it happen.

Mouse as Ideal Project

(Mouse prototype)

It turns out that the mouse had the right balance of mechanical design, ergonomic design, software design, and electronic design, that really mapped well with the generalist, mini-da Vincis that Hovey-Kelley had. Jim knew the TTL logic, and he could do some programming; you had to put in some LEDs, and make sure things weren't bouncing. But there was nothing truly advanced in the electronics, truly advanced in the encoding, only advanced in the ability to manufacture to the tolerances necessary to get the encoders operating accurately. The mechanical design was relatively simple, in the sense that it elegant in its function-- it didn't use ball bearings, everything was molded plastic, high-volume injection molding.

(Test mice)

And there was ergonomics involved. Whether it was going to be one-button, or two-button, or three-button was a concern. We didn't actually fight that battle too much, that seemed to be more one that raged inside Apple. We just said, "We'll put whatever you need on it. Don't worry, we can do any of those."

Jim Sachs discusses mouse ergonomics in his interview. Button numbers are discussed elsewhere by Hovey.

But even down to the tactile aspect of the click, it was a perfect scaled project for a Stanford product designer. Any more electronics it would have been over our heads; it was just perfect. It was one of the first products at Hovey-Kelley that had all of those pieces to it. Usually we had to do something for manufacturability, or worry about human factors, but in the mouse it all came together. I think if there's anything that made Hovey-Kelley, was being able to say we did the mouse. It's something that everybody knows, there are probably several hundred million people who use it on a daily basis, and they don't even notice it's there.

Jim Sachs talks about clicks and the "Zen of product design." Yurchenco and Sun also talk about manufacturability.

So from a product designer's perspective, you've done something wonderful because it's disappeared: the technology is not in the way, it's one with the person, and it works. And as a result, we can point to that, and it put aside anyone's skepticism about who you were working with. It was worth all the effort we put into it for how it helped us grow our business.

Jim Sachs also reflects on the mouse's invisibility.


Document created on 10 July 2000;