Monday, July 12, 2010

disquieting input

Barry Katz, a consulting professor at Stanford's Design School, stopped by a few weeks ago, thrilled to find that we had included nearly ten pages about industrial and HCI design in our book. He is in process of doing a "definitive historic book" about ID and HCI in the Valley, and we chatted convivially for quite a while. Barry and I taught together in Stanford's VTSS program in the 1980s. I gave him a number of names worth following up with in the Valley, including the long time head of HP's Design Group, Allen Inhelder.

Imagine my surprise with an e-mail blast a few weeks later, from Allen (his P.S. note said his name is not spelt Alan, which we got wrong in the text p. 234, but right in the footnote, p. 577 -- embarrassing!). The bigger concern though was his message: "Your creative story telling about the history of HP Industrial Design is incorrect. Your writing also denigrates by omission an outstanding body of work that has never been duplicated. Your literary alchemy has managed to turn the HP golden years of industrial design into a mound of bullshit. It is obvious that you didn't bother to fact-check your sources. I am deciding how to tell the readers of your book the facts about the early days of industrial design in general and at HP."

Allen included his phone number, and I called him directly. His chief concern seemed to do with our crediting Carl Clement as heavily as we did for the "Clement Cabinet" which Allen feels he mostly designed, but politics meant that Carl was the chief name on the patent filing. We do credit Allen with the replacement cabinet, done fourteen years later -- he calls them System 1 and System 2, but really was clear that he, not Carl, was chiefly responsible for both. Couple this with the fact that we didn't acknowledge that Allen led the Corporate Design Group for nearly twenty-five years -- you can imagine that he was pretty worked up!

I doubt that the call placated Allen much, but it was very important to hear his point of view, and reflect on so many good things that he did do or did lead. We can patch some things in a later printing perhaps; meanwhile, he will have his story told more fully in Barry's definitive work.

Joel warned me about the likelihood that this will be a common kind of occurrence, based on what he has seen with other authors trying to give credits that are elusive sometimes to pin down. Ah, well... For those of you from the ID / HCI community, our apologies if we were inadequate here; our intent (by contrast with most computing and electronics company histories which ignore ID / HCI altogether), was to try to include it and give some context for its importance as a discipline in this crazy-quilt high-tech world