Microsoft Keyboard
Work in Progress

Sometimes You Just Need to Carve Foam

Ziba DesignDecember 16, 2020 / 2 min read

Microsoft + Ziba

In 1993, Microsoft knew that home computing was the future, but they also knew that they wouldn't be part of it if millions of consumers were getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome using their products. They’d already worked with Ziba on a few early hardware projects, and came to us to help make the ergonomic keyboard as accessible to home users as they’d made the word processor.

For an engineering-based company like Microsoft, ergonomic design means lots of testing and analysis. But despite plenty of research and references, getting the keyboard’s angles and surfaces right mostly came down to trial and error. Sketches became models, rough-cut out of urethane foam, then carved and sanded to match a proposed form. Promising models were driven up to Microsoft’s labs near Seattle, where test subjects would simulate typing—sometimes for hours—under the watchful eye of ergonomics experts and a suite of pressure sensors.

The resulting product, released in 1994 as the Microsoft Natural Keyboard, quickly became the best-selling ergonomic keyboard in history. With a retail price under $100, it transformed market perceptions by putting thoughtful design within the reach of home consumers, who responded by purchasing upwards of 600,000 of them per month at the peak of the keyboard’s popularity.

Since then, we’ve both grown and diversified a lot, but our relationship with Microsoft remains, whether its reconsidering their approach to office design, going deep in user research on a new digital interface, or maintaining a reputation for making hardware that’s just as functional and well thought-out as that keyboard.

Related Articles