(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘design

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”*…

Liam Grace-Flood on the near universal comedy of technological failure…

… I’ve always been more interested in the failed inventions that aren’t just paving stones on the road to success. The kind of attempts that are so bad that you have to wonder “are they serious?” – like a nose stylus (pictured above) for using your phone in the bath when your hands get wet.

There are many variations on the idea of ‘failed invention.’ Rube Goldberg machines are overly-complicated contraptions, designed to accomplish simple tasks. Kludges and jugaads are hacky devices assembled from what’s available – usually creating something much weirder than if you started from scratch. There’s a whole genre of life hack TikToks where creators, in the quest to create as much content as possible, don’t stop to ask if what they’re creating makes any sense at all. But I’d say the genre of bad invention with the most nuanced and interesting relationship to failure is Chindogu.

Chindogu is a Japanese word meaning “weird tool.” These (almost) useless inventions might address a challenge, but they also create bigger problems. Iconic Chindogu inventions include chopsticks with a fan attached for cooling hot food and a onesie with mop-like fringe, harnessing the untapped crawling power of your baby to clean the floor. While inventions like these are usually not practical for their intended purpose, they can still be charming, evocative, and funny, and give us something that successful inventions can’t. They offer a moment’s deviation from some prescribed path to success, a pause in the slog of value creation, to allow a moment’s worth of weird joy…

A warm and wonderful appraisal of the innovative spirit (that doubles as a last-minute Holiday gift list): “On Chindogu,” in @the_prepared.

(Image above: source)

* Thomas Edison

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As we celebrate snafus, we might send well-designed birthday greetings to someone who successfully connected products with users, Walter Dorwin Teague; he was born on this date in 1883.  An industrial designer, architect, illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and entrepreneur, he is often called the “Dean of Industrial Design,” a field that he pioneered as a profession in the US, along with Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Loewy, and Henry Dreyfuss.  He is widely known for his exhibition designs during the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair (including the Ford Building), and for his iconic product and package designs, from Eastman Kodak’s Bantam Special to the steel-legged Steinway piano.

Walter_Dorwin_Teague

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 18, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The library is inhabited by spirits that come out of the pages at night”*…

A graphic designer (and here) by day, Doyle has spent the last few years expanding his Hypertexts series. Grace Ebert explores…

Stephen Doyle describes his interconnected book sculptures as “miniature monuments, testaments to the power of language and metaphors of imagination.” Featuring angled scaffolding and interlocking constructions that appear to grow directly from the bound pages, the sprawling sculptural forms that comprise his Hypertexts series are unruly and enchanting reimaginings of how information is communicated.

The New York City-based artist lobs off parts of sentences, tethers phrases together with an unrelated word, and generally obscures the author’s intended meaning, producing arbitrary and striking connections within the text. Although the paper sculptures are tangible manifestations of language, Doyle tells Colossal that he originally envisioned the spliced works as satirical commentaries on digital diagramming. “I first started when ‘hypertext’ was a novel term of the internet: blue underlined text was a portal, linked to another document in the ether. Linking one text to another seemed rather DADA in intent, abstract, random, and capricious,” he says, explaining further:

I conjured sculptures in which the lines of text shook off the shackles of the page, leapt up, out of the book, and started conferring with their neighboring lines of text, creating an aerial network of language, turning text into synapse, circulation… I soon realized that these three-dimensional diagrams seemed to have a poetic power of their own, recontextualizing language and ideas into sculptural forms, inspired by the books themselves

More at “Interlocking Lines of Text Spring from Stephen Doyle’s Poetic Book Sculptures,” @Colossal.

* Isabel Allende

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As we ponder prose, we might send birthday greetings to two writers whose words are ripe for Doyle’s enshrinement…

Dorothy Parker was born on this date in 1893. A poet, writer, critic, and satirist based in New York, she was best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles, routinely published in The New Yorker— and for her membership in the Algonquin Round Table.

“There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

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Ray Bradbury was born on this date in 1920. One of the most celebrated 20th-century American writers, he worked in a variety of modes, including fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and realistic fiction– but is best remembered for his speculative fiction, perhaps especially for his novel Fahrenheit 451 and his short-story collections The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. he New York Times called Bradbury “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream.”

Summertime, 1950, I recognized [Christopher] Isherwood browsing in a Santa Monica bookstore. My book had just come out, so I grabbed a copy off the shelf, signed it and gave it to him. His face fell and my heart sank, but two days later he called and said, “Do you know what you’ve done?” I asked, “What?” And he simply told me to read his review in the Times. His rave turned my life around; the book immediately made the best-seller lists and has been in print ever since.
He was very kind in introducing me to various people he thought I should know, like Aldous Huxley, who had been my literary hero since Brave New World came out.

Bradbury, on his chance meeting with Christopher Isherwood just after publication of The Martian Chronicles which led to fame and acclaim outside of SF fandom

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“Hierarchy works well in a stable environment”*…

… and often not so well in a dynamic, unstable setting. Simon Roberts reminds us of an alternative concept, one that shifts perspectives by taking into account multiple relationships and interdependencies– heterarchy

Some ideas about how the world works feel so obvious as to be beyond question. They have taken on a sense of appearing to be part of the natural order of things. Hierarchy—an arrangement, ranking or classification of people or things on the basis of their importance or value—is one such idea. Hierarchies are evident at scale in societies when classes or castes of people are ranked on the basis of some factor or other (be that wealth, cultural capital or purity). And secular hierarchies are often supported by hierarchies in the realm of the sacred, symbolics or spiritual.

The idea of hierarchy seems so natural because the criteria by which things are ranked have themselves a tendency to appear innate. Consider, for example, class distinctions. These are often expressed in hierarchical terms (“She married beneath herself”, “He’s a social climber’), but are constructed, communicated and cemented by a bewildering array of cultural distinctions that show up sartorially, linguistically, symbolically and through social practice. The result is that the hierarchical ranking of people takes on a logic of its own that is difficult to see for what it is – an invention.

Ideas and practices informed by hierarchy are common in the world of business too. Hierarchy informs organisational design, decision making and cultural practices. These practices naturalise hierarchy. And hierarchy is a feature of the methodologies and frameworks used by consultants, like “need hierarchies” and the propensity for rankings of things like product features or benefits.

What results from the fact that hierarchy is an unquestioned element of the grammar of human existence? It’s that hierarchy has an outsized impact on how we think about culture, society and organisations. But many social, cultural and natural forms are not organised hierarchically. A different lens—that offered by the concept of heterarchy—provides more than a corrective to our obsession with hierarchy. It helps explain more fundamental processes at play in the natural and social world…

Read on to learn more about an organizing (and organizational) framework, rooted in nature, that’s “built” for the turbulent times that we’re in: “How heterarchy can help us put hierarchy in its place,” from @ideasbazaar and @stripepartners.

See also: “Heterarchy: An Idea Finally Ripe for Its Time,” by (your correspondent’s old friend and partner) Jay Ogilvy (@JayOgilvy), whose wonderful book, Many Dimensional Man, explores heterarchy deeply.

And, also apposite, see Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) “A useful, critical taxonomy of decentralization, beyond blockchains“; while the word “heterarchy” never appears, its spirit is present in the description of the approach that intrigues him…

* Mary Douglas

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As we rethink relationships, we might spare a thought for Harry Burnett “H. B.” Reese; he died on this date in 1956. A candy-maker who began his career working in the Hershey’s Chocolate factory, he began to moonlight, creating confections in his basement. In 1923, he started his own company, H.B. Reese Candy Company, manufacturing a selection of sweets. Then, in 1928, he created the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. A huge hit, it came to dominate his line– and ultimately became the best-selling candy in America. Reese is enshrined in the Candy Hall of Fame.

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“I’ve always lived by signs”*…

185. CENTRAL SAANICH – honestly if you’re gonna make it this small why bother – would you actually be able to read this while driving? would it be safe? – in conclusion and summary: no

Justin McElroy, Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, has taken to Twitter to perform an important public service…

I’ve identified 185 communities in the province of British Columbia that have welcome signs.

And in this thread, I’m going to rank every single one.

You can follow the thread, which is underway now: Rating the Welcome Signs of British Columbia, from @j_mcelroy. Via @broderick.

* Iris Murdoch, Henry and Cato

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As we contemplate connoisseurship, we might might send significant birthday greetings to a master of a different kind of sign, William Lilly; he was born on this date in 1602 (O.S.). Described as a genius at something “that modern mainstream opinion has since decided cannot be done at all,” he was an astrologer who was powerfully influential in his own time and hugely impactful on the future course of Western astrological tradition.

Lilly’s autobiography, published towards the end of his life in 1681, at the request of his patron Elias Ashmole, gives candid accounts of the political events of his era, and biographical details of contemporaries that are unavailable elsewhere. It was described, in the late 18th century, as “one of the most entertaining narratives in our language”, in particular for the historical portrayal it leaves of men like John Dee, Simon Forman, John Booker, Edward Kelley, including a whimsical first meeting of John Napier and Henry Briggs, respective co-inventors of the logarithm and Briggsian logarithms, and for its curious tales about the effects of crystals and the appearance of Queen Mab. In it, Lilly describes the friendly support of Oliver Cromwell during a period in which he faced prosecution for issuing political astrological predictions. He also writes about the 1666 Great Fire of London, and how he was brought before the committee investigating the cause of the fire, being suspected of involvement because of his publication of images, 15 years earlier, which depicted a city in flames surrounded by coffins… To his supporters he was an “English Merlin”; to his detractors he was a “juggling wizard and imposter.”…

Wikipedia
Portrait of Lilly, aged 45, now housed in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford

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“I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes, and six months later, you have to start all over again.”*…

“The Kitchen Practical” at the Women’s Exposition, 1929

The remarkable Lillian Gilbreth…

Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972) was famous for being two seemingly mutually exclusive things at once. She was one of the most celebrated mothers and one of the most celebrated engineers in the 20th-century United States. That one self-effacing woman could conquer the cut-and-thrust world of industry while bringing up a dozen children made her the subject of endless public fascination. Her career didn’t suffer either. It spanned six decades, four after the death of her husband and partner, Frank Bunker Gilbreth.

Unlike many professional women of her era, Gilbreth has never been forgotten. Her impact on human environments and design, however, is not much discussed. An exception was Sigfried Giedion who, in Mechanization Takes Command (1948), cited Gilbreth as a founder of industrial psychology and a key figure in modernising kitchens. Yet when Giedion was writing, the work she was most proud of – designing rehabilitation facilities for the disabled – had only just begun.

Although Gilbreth regularly headlined at national conferences, served on presidential commissions and featured in the media, she was modest to a fault. Her lifelong pursuit was to memorialise Frank, posthumously keeping the spotlight firmly fixed on him. And then there was the Hollywood effect. Two Gilbreth children would chronicle their experiences of growing up efficiently in bestselling memoirs, Cheaper by the Dozen (1948) and Belles on their Toes (1950), both made and remade into popular films.

In 1924, Frank died, leaving Gilbreth with 11 surviving children to put through college. She tried to continue Gilbreth Inc on her own, but as contracts dried up, she shifted focus. Capitalising on media interest in her family life – a female engineer with a plethora of children was ‘good copy’ – she reinvented herself as a domestic authority, publishing The Home-Maker and Her Job in 1927.

We might think the home terrain was well covered, particularly by Christine Frederick, whose The New Housekeeping (1913) influentially applied scientific management principles to domestic life. But as a co‑inventor of motion study, Gilbreth’s interventions were regarded as more credible and rigorous, and she did more to secure acceptance for home engineering among North American university researchers, philanthropic funders and government officials.

The difference is evident in Gilbreth’s ‘Kitchen Practical’ designed for the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company in 1929. Whereas Frederick sought to save steps by routing workflow linearly and eliminating cross traffic, Gilbreth explored ‘circular routing’, compressing the plan and using a wheeled table to bring key equipment and work surfaces as close to the homemakeras possible. In her diagram, the homemaker can easily reach most of the equipment needed for simplified coffee cake making, minimising motions by half and steps by five-sixths.

Gilbreth’s re-envisioning of women’s household labour went beyond kitchen planning. She had no patience with women wearing themselves out to meet impossible standards of cleanliness and maintained that if tasks that could be ‘handed over’ to outside help or businesses, they should be. Useless chores like ironing sheets should be eliminated altogether; any remaining should be simplified and done cooperatively by all family members including the husband according to aptitude. The time and energy saved would allow the homemaker time for self-cultivation or even a career.

Gilbreth’s consistent belief in the human need to work meant she was increasingly concerned by what happened when people were unable to do so due to age or infirmity. During the war, she worked on rehabilitation projects for the US Navy, and collaborated on a 1944 book Normal Lives for the Disabled. After the war, she turned to disabled homemakers, who had been ignored in vocational rehabilitation. Gilbreth believed this was a mistake: paid or not, homemaking was productive work without which the well-being of the household, community and nation would suffer…

Reimagining both women’s household labor and the home environment, Lillian Gilbreth sought an efficient and body-centred kitchen, from Barbara Penner in @ArchReview.

* Joan Rivers

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As we put the heart in home, we might spare a thought for John Landis Mason; he died on this date in 1902. A tinsmith, he patented the metal screw-on lids for fruit jars that have come to be known as Mason jars (many of which were printed with the line “Mason’s Patent Nov 30th 1858”).

That same year he invented the screw top salt shaker.

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