Yurchenco and Sun on Apple as a Client

Source: Interview with Jim Yurchenco and Rickson Sun, 26 April 2000.

Apple Compared

Pang: So how did Apple compare to some of the other clients you had? In terms of the amount of freedom you had to develop the product, the flexibility of the guidelines, the lack of tremendous precision in the spec-- what that standard in those days?

See also Dean Hovey on Apple's involvement in the mouse project and Apple as a client.

Sun: Um-hum [nods yes].

Yurchenco: At least the clients we had. All of our clients in those days tended to be smaller companies and start-ups, so they didn't have any infrastructure, and they didn't have any bureaucracy in place, yet. It wasn't until much later, when we were working with Fortune 500 companies, that that kind of stuff started to show up and we had to find ways of working around it.

The projects [in those days] tended to be very much relationship-based, and the success or failure would be dependent on, "Who was the person you worked with in that company?" Did you get along with them, did they understand your point of view, did you understand them, were they willing to let you run? The successful projects had people you could get along with and work with, and the ones that had people you couldn't get along with were failures. It really wasn't technology-related; it was a people thing.

Sun: The current conversation we've having today [in IDEO] is, how do we identify interesting projects to work on, when we have too many clients coming to us today with projects? Well, if we draw a matrix with "Big client/small client" [on one side] and "Big project/small project" [on the other], it turns out that small clients with big projects are much more interesting to work with than anyone else. With big companies there's overhead and the expectation to jump through structures that are somewhat artificial.

Common Culture

Yurchenco: One of the things, of course, with a lot of these companies we were working with was that these people were pretty close to our peers. They'd be within five to ten years of our age, and so most of them were coming from a somewhat similar mind-set: most of them hadn't spent time a huge amount of time in corporate America, and hadn't taken points of view that way. The suits, they tended to be over in Marketing, and they tended to be up in the executive suite, and you never really saw those guys; and so that helped, in general, and in terms of making it work well.

I mean, Bill Dresselhaus and Jerry Manock, they were our vintage, with reasonably similar backgrounds. So when you talked to them about ideas, and you talked to them about approaches, it wasn't alien to them: they didn't have some preconceived way that you had to do this, and that generally made things go pretty smoothly. A lot of this is only obvious in retrospect, looking back: at the time, it was all invisible, you were just doing things, and didn't know what was going on. And the Valley of course was in its infancy.

David Kelley talks in his interview about how the Stanford Product Design Program alumni network affected Hovey-Kelley's early work, and its relations with Apple.

Pang: So the people on the Apple side who were responsible for making this work were Bill Dresselhaus, and Jerry Manock, and a couple other people?

Yurchenco: Yeah, Dresselhaus and Manock I think were pretty important, because we interfaced with them a lot. They're people I remember were really important , who stick out in my brain as people we really worked with.... Was there anybody else who really stands out.... There was a guy who was involved, his name was Laszlo Zidek-- he was from H-P, and was one of the older guys, one of the wise, gray guys-- and he was a tooling engineer. And he had a few comments now and again. A guy named Bill Bull-- I think he was an H-P guy.

Steve Jobs

Sun: How often did Steve Jobs drop in?

Yurchenco: Jobs? He didn't poke around this project very much. I don't remember any specific interactions with him. I mean, I've got lots of stories about Jobs, but this is not one of them. In a way, that's one of the reasons I think it went well: he didn't poke around in it, he didn't micromanage everything. I mean, this wasn't on his radar, because this was Lisa, and Lisa was the enemy. So he was staying away from it.

Dean Hovey and David Kelley both discuss Steve Jobs' involvement in the mouse project in their interviews, while Jim Sachs talks about Jobs' vision for the mouse.

I suspect that if he was deeply involved it wouldn't have gone well. [laughs] He would have other things he would have been concerned about, and some of them would have been valid, and some of them would have been completely in the way.

Pang: I had heard that he was involved in some of the oversight of these shapes [for the mouse], and they were presented to him and he passed judgment on them.

Yurchenco: I suspect for the Mac, yes, but for Lisa? I doubt it. I doubt he had much interest in that.

Sun: Almost all the development of the mouse mechanism was done for Lisa.

Yurchenco: And it was designed for a Lisa enclosure, and this was Jerry's work. I'm sure he showed it to Jobs, but I never got any feedback that it was a big deal, or that it went through three thousand iterations. It was just, Jerry had some sketches, laid 'em out, and I went back and said, "We need to change here and here and here so it'll fit," and we worked back and forth like that. But I don't recall it just being an endless drag out fight over, "This radius is not awesome," or whatever it had to be at that time. It was just done. I really think Jobs just didn't have us on his radar that much.

Icon designer Susan Kare also talks about working with Steve Jobs.

And certainly Wozniak had no impact at all; I met him once or twice, but he was in a different space. I don't remember any of the other execs like Markkula paying any attention to it.

Sun: I remember a conversation about Dean wanting to manufacture this--

Yurchenco: Right, but I wasn't privy to any of that.

Sun: That was a separate conversation. I suspect that was-- Dean and Jobs had some kind of a relationship that went back prior to Apple, and that was part of Dean's private conversations with Jobs, and obviously nothing came of that.

PARC Visit

Pang: Jim Sachs mentioned a visit to Xerox PARC to look at their mouse in action.

See also Dean Hovey and Jim Sachs on visiting PARC. On Apple's visits to PARC, see Jef Raskin.

Yurchenco: Yeah, I remember going over there. I remember meeting Alan Kay, but I don't remember particularly that anything came of it in terms of applying to this development project. It was more like, "Whoa, what is this, this is interesting," and-- what was Alan pushing-- something-book--

Pang: Dynabook.

Yurchenco: Dynabook? Yeah, whatever-- he was envisioning today's laptop. So he was obviously a person who thought pretty far in the future, but there was nothing that really specifically came out that aided or hindered this investigation.

Pang: So had you already been at work on the mouse when you went up to Xerox PARC?

Yurchenco: I don't recall. It wasn't something that struck me one way or the other as being important to this process. It was just a nice field-trip more than anything.

Sun: Xerox PARC was a popular place for field trips: I remember in school going on trips and seeing the prototype mouse, and seeing the Star, and the user interface, so it was just a popular thing to do.

Yurchenco: I only had that one visit, and I never went back.

Mac prototypes

Yurchenco: Dean and I spent time as well developing the early Macintosh models-- I don't know if you're aware of that.

Pang: No.

Yurchenco: We actually built the first model of what because the first production Macintosh, in Dean's shop.

Pang: So this would have been after Jobs had taken over the project?

Yurchenco: No. Jerry was working on it-- Jerry transferred over and started working on it, and I assume Jobs was heavily involved at that point. But what sticks in my mind is that we were working on it the same time they were televising the first Space Shuttle launch, and somehow there's a connection in my mind of that time frame. It would be interesting to see if it's true (laughs).

Dean Hovey describes the same event. According to a NASA Web page, the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1, landed at Kennedy Space Center on 28 April 1981.

But I remember when I first joined H-K there were some sketches floating around of things that were predating, were early predecessors of what became the Mac, floating around the office. There had been some work done there. David and Dean had done some conceptual work on it. So it has roots that go pretty far back in our company.

Pang: Jim Sachs had mentioned some kind of secret project that Steve had talked to David Kelley about, but didn't offer much in the way of detail. I haven't figured out from the Apple side of the papers what that would have corresponded to.

Yurchenco: Well, there were definitely drawings of units that had basically a monitor with a CPU in it floating around, that in some ways looked a lot like what became Mac. Now what's happened to that stuff, I don't know. But I do remember actually working on the models of some of Jerry Manock's very early sketches of that thing to build-- working appearance models.

There was quite a bit of overlap between development of Mac and development of Lisa. Part of our company was working on Lisa, in particular Douglas Dayton. There were endless, endless revisions to Lisa keyboards, and PAG cards, and so forth-- I mean, Douglas got a kick out of it because his rev block fell off one sheet of paper and started growing down the bottom of another one, with double letters, with "CCCC:" and so forth. Just endless, endless noodling changes for no reason, other than, I suppose, vanity.

But at the same time Mac work was getting started and going on. So there was quite a bit of overlap in people at that time; eventually it became totally polarized between the Mac people and the Lisa people. But I don't think that people at H-K quite realized the depth of the polarization; I think we were really naive about that detail. I mean, we were friends with Manock, and we were friends with Dresselhaus. Manock became associated with Mac, and Dresselhaus stayed as part of the Lisa team-- I don't know whether there was any particular bad blood between the two of them, but certainly Jobs encouraged it, with his attitude-- his "take no prisoners" attitude-- with however he described the people in the Lisa group.

See also Dean Hovey on working with both groups at once.

I certainly don't ever recall us ever being drawn into that, and probably we were a little naive in terms of the relations we were trying to maintain on both sides (laughs). I think probably if we'd understood that a little better, we'd been a little more effective in terms of what we were doing.

Sun: We just wanted to design here.

Yurchenco: Yep, basically.

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Document created on 10 June 2000;