“Have you ever thought about how many buttons should be on a mouse?
Bill Verplank has. Bill was part of the Xerox PARC team who was responsible for taking the mouse and many other computing paradigms from theory to indispensable.
I had a chance to speak with Bill about his time at PARC and all of his other influential work for this week’s podcast. If you’re interested in where many of today’s computing metaphors come from, or in design and computing history in general, this is the show for you.
Today’s usability, interaction design, and experience design disciplines have their roots in human factors engineering, which many, including Bill, trace back to the 1950s, when the U.S. government was investing heavily in cockpit design of jet fighters. It was upon that foundation, Bill studied design and engineering at Stanford and did his PhD. work at MIT in man-machine systems.
From there, he spent considerable time with Xerox PARC, working on some of the first office systems, including the Xerox Star, which was a major influence for both the Macintosh user interface and Microsoft Windows. Bill continues to trace his history through some of the most influential design agencies of our time, like IDEO, and winds up with a question of design education: what happens when engineers and artists meet and try to create something usable for humans? Bill is seeing important schools, like the Rhode Island School of Design and Carnegie Mellon University, experimenting with programs that put engineers and artists together. We also debated the impact and interpretation of experience design and its impact on various industries.
Our conversation ended with a preview of Bill’s Spotlight Plenary presentation at our UI Conference this fall. Bill is known for his mesmerizing talks where he sketches his points along with the talk. (At the conference, we’ll have a camera set up so you can watch him sketch as he talks!)”