Buckminster Fuller, talking to the New Yorker in 1966, quoted in this article by Elizabeth Kolbert:
“I made up my mind . . . that I would never try to reform man–that’s much too difficult. What I would do was to try to modify the environment in such a way as to get man moving in preferred directions.“
That’s what this research is all about. Design as trimtab, perhaps, with all the debate, decisions, multidisciplinarity and implementation issues that implies.
Many thanks to Rick Thomas for sending me the quote.
And on the multidisciplinarity issue, Metropolis currrently has a feature on Fuller including this perceptive quote from Chuck Hoberman (of Hoberman sphere fame):
“I think he’s [Fuller] been highly influential as an iconoclastic spirit, who never accepted that the boundaries between disciplines were anything other than something to be climbed over or circumvented in some way. To me that’s not so much a heroic stance as much as a very practical way to proceed in the world today. That’s also why he pre-staged a lot of what’s going on now.”
“If the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the Industrial Designer has failed.”
Henry Dreyfuss, Designing for People, 1955
Cognitive friction is one thing, and generally a result rather than a deliberate strategy; process friction is something else, and can very much be a deliberate strategy, as well as an accidental consequence of poor or badly thought-out interaction design. This is closer to what Dreyfuss is getting at, I think.
Scott Adams (via Seth Godin):
I think writer’s block is when you say to yourself, “I could write something, but it wouldn’t be good enough.” There’s no such thing as a complete inability to write a sentence.
He’s right, of course: it’s the fear of failure, of incompetence, or the fear of being perceived as incompetent, which stops so much useful work being done. If it’s sub-standard, will it actually drive readers/customers away? John S Rhodes has an interesting take on the issue.
Best get on with it, then.
As a flipside, perhaps, to the quote on precedents from a couple of weeks ago:
If there is something really cool, and you can’t understand why somebody hasn’t done it before, it’s because you haven’t done it yourself.
(From Lion Kimbro‘s fascinating How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think.)
The way I interpret that is that every previous person who has come up with the idea has been dissuaded by the same thought, viz. ‘Why hasn’t anyone done that before?’ and thus this is the problem.
When you come up with an idea, whether as a designer, engineer, scientist, thinker, writer, programmer, educator, anything, two of the biggest objections you’ll face are:
a) I bet that’s not original. Therefore, it’s no good.
b) Why hasn’t anyone done that before? It can’t be any good.
But in an abstract sense, we shouldn’t be put off by the existence or non-existence of precedents. It can be useful to learn from others’ success (and failures), of course, but independent thought and development (even if unknowingly following others’ work) so often seem to be at the heart of genuine progress.
Image: ‘The Briton’ door closer, from an era when it was considered worth branding and having pride in the design of a product such as this.
L.J.K. Setright, the late motoring writer and commentator, self-taught mechanical engineer and all-round Renaissance Man, once wrote:
Fashion is a terrible fetter; convention, since it lasts longer, is even worse.
This was in an issue of Car, when it was still any good.
Setright wrote it in reference to car design, and the lack of progress thereof, but I think we can all see how applicable it is to many fields of endeavour, not just in technology but in society also. We should be very wary when fashions become conventions – or at least we should think them through before they become norms. And we should always leave ourselves a way out. (I’ve mentioned this in a few contexts before, perhaps with a little hyperbole.)
What almost became a norm – DRM’d music – is now apparently on the way out. DRM was a fashion, not a convention: still a fetter, but one which can ultimately be shaken off, as it should be.
The great thing about fashions, of course, is that they can be talked into existence, and talked out of existence too. Fashions are not architecture.
It is remarkable… how often thinking for oneself will lead us to conclusions written about before we were born.
From a post by Vera Bass, ‘Teaching requires learning’, 6th November 2006.
Many people have probably also said this, but that’s the point, pretty much.