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Posts Tagged ‘design

“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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“Eventually everything connects”*…

Long-time readers will know of your correspondent’s fascination with Powers of Ten, a remarkable short film by Charles and Ray Eames, with Philip Morrison, that begins with a couple having a picnic, zooms out by “powers of ten” to the edge of the universe, then zooms in (by those same increments) to a proton.

We’ve looked before at a number of riffs on this meditation on scale: see, e.g., here, here, and here.

Now the BBC has updated the first half of Powers of Ten:

It’s a trip worth taking.

* Charles Eames

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As we wrestle with relationships, we might light a birthday candle for Sir Francis Bacon– English Renaissance philosopher, lawyer, linguist, composer, mathematician, geometer, musician, poet, painter, astronomer, classicist, philosopher, historian, theologian, architect, father of modern science (The Baconian– aka The Scientific– Method), and patron of modern democracy, whom some allege was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I of England (and others, the actual author of Shakespeare’s plays)… He was in any event born on this date in 1561.

Bacon (whose Essays were, in a fashion, the first “management book” in English) was, in Alexander Pope’s words, “the greatest genius that England, or perhaps any country, ever produced.”  He probably did not actually write the plays attributed to Shakespeare (as a thin, but long, line of enthusiasts, including Mark Twain and Friedrich Nietzsche, believed).  But Bacon did observe, in a discussion of sedition that’s as timely today as ever, that “the remedy is worse than the disease.”

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“Intelligence is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”*…

On the attribution of intelligence…

A new study published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal — the annual fun one — sought to settle once and for all which phrase to describe a simple task is more deserved, “It’s not brain surgery” or “It’s not rocket science.” They did this by administering an intelligence test to 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons. Turns out it’s conditional: the rocket scientists and neurosurgeons are pretty much evenly matched, though the aerospace engineers were better at mental manipulations while the brain surgeons were better at semantic problem solving. That said, no significant difference was found between the aerospace engineers and the control population, while the same held among the neurosurgeons, although they did have a speedier problem solving time that was statistically significant. That said, the paper’s authors contend maybe pedestaling this kind of niche intellect is overall discouraging to people given the results, so I think the obvious compromise is that we all agree to just change to, “Well, it’s not exactly blogging about MoviePass,” to honor the real titans of our day…

Not Exactly Brain Surgery,” from Walt Hickey (@WaltHickey) in his essential Numlock News (@NumlockAM).

Read the underlying research here.

* Susan Sontag

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As we get smart, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to Piet Hein; he was born on this date in 1905. A mathematician, inventor, designer, author and poet, his short poems, known as gruks (or grooks), first started to appear in the daily newspaper Politiken shortly after the German occupation of Denmark in April 1940 under the pseudonym “Kumbel ”tombstone’] Kumbell.” He invented the Soma cube and the board game Hex, and designed the famous “super ellipse” traffic circle in Stockholm.

Before the war Hein had, in his own words, “played mental ping-pong” with Niels Bohr. After the war Hein was a close associate of Martin Gardner and his work was frequently featured in Gardner’s Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. At the age of 95 Gardner wrote Hein’s “autobiography” and titled it Undiluted Hocus-Pocus. Both the title and the dedication of the book come from one of Hein’s grooks.

Piet Hein, standing in front of the Hans Christian Anderson statue in Copenhagen

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