Meet Jerry Manock, Apple's Very First Designer

"I’ve got my iPhone and GPS and news anytime I want it. But my mindset is: I’m not married to this thing."

Before Jonathan Ive and even Hartmut Esslinger, there was Jerry Manock, the world’s first iDesigner. Manock, a 66-year-old product designer and lecturer at the University of Vermont, joined Apple Computer as a design consultant in 1977 and is credited with designing the case of the original Apple II, one of history’s first successful, mass-produced personal computers, among other products. Seven Days, an alt-weekly in Vermont, recently profiled Manock. Let’s meet the man, shall we?

He was 33 when he started at Apple, and green as hell. That was a good thing.

What I heard later is they had asked a lot of other designers in Silicon Valley if they could meet this very tight schedule—this was November or December of ’76 and they wanted to have multiple Apple IIs at the West Coast Computer Faire in April of ’77. I think a lot of other people, other designers, turned him down and said that’s totally impossible. I didn’t have that experience, so I said, ‘I’ll give it a try’ and quickly started building models.

Until it wasn’t.

Walking back from lunch one day, I said, Steve, you paid me $1800 for the Apple II, and it’s getting to be more and more popular, and I really think I ought to have a royalty on that. I ought to get, like, a dollar a unit, because $1800 wasn’t all that much. He never hesitated. He looked at me and said, ‘You’re very good. But if you knew how many we thought we were going to sell in the next two or three years … You’re not that good.’ What do you say to that? He was absolutely right. How many millions of those things did they sell? You can’t ask for royalties after you’ve delivered the work, so it was totally stupid and naïve on my part.

He really is the original Jony Ive. Note the similarities between how he talks about design and how Apple approaches design:

The whole basis of the class I’ve taught at UVM for 21 years is … integrated product development, which means concurrently looking at all of these things: the aesthetics, the engineering, the marketing … which is what we were doing at Apple.

He learned to make things by … making things.

I had shop courses in junior high. I had metal shop, printing shop, electric shop and wood shop. And in high school, too. I was learning how to screw things together, or apart. How things worked. I don’t think that’s happening anymore.

Irony alert: He hates how people use the very inventions his old company spread far and wide.

I get really upset when I’m walking downtown and there are three young people walking toward me—all with their heads down. I try to make eye contact to say hello, good morning, and nothing. The disconnect there bothers me, and that’s going to get nothing but worse. I’ve got my iPhone and GPS and news anytime I want it. But my mindset is: I’m not married to this thing. I don’t have to look at it every five minutes. I can kind of use the technology for what I need. I feel pretty balanced that way. And I’ve made a conscious decision not to go with all the social-media stuff, because it takes up too much of my time. I can’t read a book. I can’t sketch. I can’t go to movies if I’m constantly tweeting somebody.

[H/t Kottke]