"Only Henry Petroski, author of The Pencil, could make one never pick up a paper clip again without being overcome with feelings of awe and reverence. In his new book the author examines a host of techno-trivia questions - how the fork got its tines, why Scotch tape is called that, how the paper clip evolved, how the Post-it note came to be, how the zipper was named, why aluminum cans have hollow bottoms - and provides us with answers that both astonish and challenge the imagination." "In addition to an extended discussion of knives, forks, spoons, and other common devices, the author explains how the interplay of social and technical factors affects the development and use of such things as plastic bags, fast-food packaging, push-button telephones, and other modern conveniences. Throughout the book familiar objects serve to illustrate the general principles behind the evolution of all products of invention and engineering." "Petroski shows, by way of these examples as well as a probing look at the patent process, that the single most important driving force behind technological change is the failure of existing devices to live up to their promise. As shortcomings become evident and articulated, new and "improved" versions of artifacts come into being through long and involved processes variously known as research and development, invention, and engineering. He further demonstrates how the evolving forms of technology generally are altered by our very use of them, and how they, in turn, alter our social and cultural behavior." "In this wonderful mixture of history, biography, and design theory, Henry Petroski brings us to an understanding of an essential question: By what mechanism do the shapes and forms of our made world come to be?"--BOOK JACKET.
This book is a brilliant look at process and can be used as a research tool when looking at why something like the iPod caught on and why almost everything that has been developed at MIT in recent history (except eInk) has never gained a foothold in popular American culture. In the face of the rise of "everyware" computing, it's adoption in places like Korea and Japan, and only limited use by the rich for personal security in the US, I would say this is a must read for contemporary designers, no matter what depth of complexity their task at hand. This book predates the web, making it very enlightening in light of user-centered design in recent years.
This book looks at the relationship of genius design, corporate R D, pop culture, the feedback loop for product innovation, and the adoption of standards around SIMPLE things. This means these case studies can be used to analyse the failures (and how failure breeds innovation, not "form follows function") of our complex information economy and embedded systems. Society has gone through it all before. And as projects become increasingly team based and open sourced (like Stanford's new d.school), just about anyone can find value in this book based within this context.
Henry Petroski talks about forks, knifes, spoons, paper clips, screws, post-its, zippers, hammers, saws, metal (beberage) cans, ..., and how all these objects evolved through the perception that they failed in some (even if minor) way. The whole book is Petroski's argument against the "form follows function" adage.
The only fault I found on this book is that it is, in my opinion, a bit lengthy. Half-way through the book you will already agree that it is failure, in its many forms, that ultimately drives the evolution of things...
But as dry and difficult as that last sentence was, it's got nothing on Petroski's writing. No topic sentences in paragraphs or chapters, no transitions or summaries or organizational cues of any kind. I could not read every word of the book. I did read every word to p. 102, then I turned every page and read every illustration, and occasional paragraphs as they caught my eye. I think I got more out of the part I skimmed than the part I read closely.
I refuse to give this book two stars. It really was a complete waste of my time and I don't want you to waste yours. There are other books and blogs about design and invention that give the layperson much more joy & satisfaction.