The Mouse and IDEO

Source: Interview with David Kelley, 24 July 2000.

The mouse project compared

Pang: So within Hovey-Kelley, how did this compare to some of the other projects you were working on? Was it the first complete product you did?

Kelley: No, but it was the most successful-- you hang around with Steve Jobs long enough, good things happen, right? At the same time, we were working on a differential cell counter for a microscope, a computer housing for Zilog, which wasn't so interesting mechanically, but it was modular, so you had to figure out how to put it together and take it apart and all that kind of stuff. But the mouse really stands out in the memory because it was the most interesting, and the most successful thing we did.

Jim Sachs also talks about other projects Hovey-Kelley had at the same time as the mouse.

Pang: Dean talked a little about how the mouse helped solidify the company's reputation--

Kelley: For sure. It had a lot to do with Jobs, too. First of all, I should say I consider Steve a good friend: he introduced me to my wife, I go over to his house for dinner all the time, and so on. But he's so critical-- and I don't think he would mind my saying that-- that makes people do their best work, and people know that. If I need a travel agency, I call Steve and say, "Hey, who do you use?" and I know he's found someone who'll put up with his exacting concerns.

So it helped us to be able to say, "We've worked with Steve Jobs, you can call him." They couldn't get to him, but it was kind of an endorsement: if we could please him, we could please you as a new client.

Icon designer Susan Kare also talks about working with Steve Jobs, and his design sense.

Learning from the mouse

Pang: Do you think there were things you learned from this project that helped the company in its later work?

Kelley: Sure, sure, absolutely. It was a confidence-builder to set a high goal. You have to give that to Steve, too: he's really good at getting you to set a high goal. He said, "You can make this for $12 or $17," or whatever our goal was, it was in that range, when they normally cost $400. The thing I remember about the mouse was, we're kids, we don't know what we're doing, we're given this task-- and everybody at Apple are kids, too; Steve's younger than me-- and we broke through this brick wall. That was a real confidence-builder.

The mouse is clearly the best example in the early days of where you apply the Stanford product design process, you set a high goal, and you can do it. Even though you were naive about business or manufacturing, you can learn those on the fly. As a result of that, today the most sought-after projects in the company are the ones in areas where we don't have a lot of experience, not the ones where we do have a lot. We have a lot of experience designing furniture, and Pepsi products, and computer housings, and other stuff; but the big bang for the buck is projects like the mouse, where we take on something where we don't know anything about the market, or how the last one was designed. There, we can really wow the client, because we're not tied to convention.

So we continue to build on our confidence from the mouse, and say, "No, we've never designed one of these before, but we just apply our process, and in the end you'll get a more innovative solution than if you went to a guy who's already designed fifteen of these." And we learned that from the mouse. For sure.

I'm sure we learned a lot of other specific technical things, like about injection molding-- Yurchenco was pushing the state of the art-- and we learned about optics, and quadrature, and manufacturing. Even though we weren't responsible for manufacturing, every time some little thing went wrong we were beaten up over why we designed it this way, right? We learned there's a consequence: we can design something, but if we haven't gotten the manufacturing engineer involved, it's hard to explain why we weren't negligent in doing something a certain way, or why the tradeoffs made sense. There's probably a million things like that that we learned in the early projects. Apple was definitely our premier client, through Macintosh.


Document created on 12 September 2000;