Why has the durable paper shopping bag been largely replaced by its flimsy plastic counterpart? What circuitous chain of improvements led to such innovations as the automobile cup holder and the swiveling vegetable peeler? With the same relentless curiosity and lucid, witty prose he brought to his earlier books, Henry Petroski looks at some of our most familiar objects and reveals that they are, in fact, works in progress. For there can never be an end to the quest for the perfect design.
To illustrate his thesis, Petroski tells the story of the paper drinking cup, which owes its popularity to the discovery that water glasses could carry germs. He pays tribute to the little plastic tripod that keeps pizza from sticking to the box and analyzes the numerical layouts of telephones and handheld calculators. Small Things Considered is Petroski at his most trenchant and provocative, casting his eye not only on everyday artifacts but on their users as well.
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|Title of History eBook: Small Things Considered|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
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|Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group|
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Small Things Considered
The Nature of Design
An architect, a psychologist, and an engineer were appearing together on a radio talk show. This may sound like the setup line for one of those jokes about professionals, but the situation was real and the subject of the National Public Radio program, Talk of the Nation-Science Friday, was not comedy but the design of everyday objects. The hour's discussion showed that the participants, each in his own way, took design very seriously indeed. Their characteristic mind-sets were evident from the beginning, and by the end of the hour they had conveyed a great deal about how differently their professions approach the subject under discussion.
Ira Flatow, the show's host, asked each guest to comment on what constituted good and bad design-giving examples-and the talk ranged widely from teakettles to computers. As if to signal that this was not too heavy a subject for a Friday afternoon, the architect stressed at the outset that the design of anything can be whimsical and a source of great enjoyment. He recalled getting a letter from a French poet who said that he smiled every time the little red bird on his Michael Graves-designed teakettle whistled to announce that the water had come to a boil. The psychologist agreed that the architect's teakettle was a thing of beauty and a joy to use, and he confessed that he even displayed one in his kitchen window for people to admire. The engineer, having had no personal experience with the whimsical teakettle, said nothing about it, but he thought to himself of the many times he had dripped boiling water from the very attractive but poorly designed kettle that sat on his stove at home.