Useful Evolution

Posted on Saturday 3 June 2006

Cheers for a great recommendation from Tom Igoe for Henry Petroski’s great book,The Evolution of Useful Things. Usually we don’t consider the number of steps that a great “invention” takes on its way to an optimal form. Petroski does a nice job of breaking down seemingly simple objects like the paperclip and demonstrate the confluence of conditions and contributions that allow for a really great design to mature.

The old adage “neccessity is the mother of invention” might as well be changed to neccessity is the mother of refinements. Ureka moments don’t really happen as much as the gradual variations on a theme, worked on in paralell by designers and inventors from all around the world.

As interesting as the thought process of the individuals is the state of manufacturing that leads to certain improvements. It is as much as what the technology suggests to the inventor as the other way ’round.

The Evolution of Useful things is facinating because of the number of surprises to the process I imaged that I knew. The freshness by which the book puts this process in perspective is the value in between its pages. I highly recommend this book as a nice primer to thinking about your own design and innovation processes.

In the case of design evolution we have alot to learn by looking back.

I am halfway through the book and I will probably reference more later. My favorite catch phrase by the author is the term “artifactual icon” in reference to the form of the “Gem” paperclip.


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