Designing Interactions

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Larry Tesler

Larry Tesler is interviewed in Chapter 1 – The Mouse and the Desktop. His career forms a link from the pioneering work of Doug Engelbart, Stu Card and Tim Mott, to the emergence of a dominant design for the PC, as described by Bill Atkinson, Cordell Ratzlaff and Paul Bradley.

When he was at Apple, Larry Tesler had a license plate saying “NO MODES,” emphasizing his passion for designing software that would be simple and easy to use. He had been writing code since he was in high school and worked at the computer center at Stanford while studying there in the early ‘60s. He realized that the best way to design the software was with participation from the customer, and he developed techniques for watching how people did things and designing software that allowed people to use new technology in familiar ways. He learned to create prototypes rapidly and to test them with the intended users early and often. After working at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, he went to Xerox PARC in 1973 in time to be a key player in the development of the desktop and desktop publishing. In 1980 he moved to Apple, where he was core to the design of Lisa. He invented cut-and-paste and editable dialog boxes, and he designed the Smalltalk browser. He simplified the use of the mouse by reducing the controls to a single button. He insists on truth and accuracy and is willing to challenge anybody’s assumptions about the best way to do things, always thinking from basic principles.

Larry describes a process of prototyping and user testing on a twenty-four hour cycle, by working fourteen-hour shifts with a partner. When he was working with Bill Atkinson at Apple to define the interaction design for Lisa, he tells of the night when Bill designed the original pull-down menu structure.

Larry at his interview in 2003. Photo Author