The Evolution of Useful Things"/>

SMALL THINGS CONSIDERED: Why There Is No Perfect Design

Henry Petroski, Author . Knopf $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4050-6

"Design can be easy and difficult at the same time, but in the end, it is mostly difficult." So writes engineering professor Petroski (The Evolution of Useful Things, etc.) in his latest effort, a wide-ranging exploration of the history and design of the everyday technologies like supermarket aisles and telephone keypads that are practically invisible in their ubiquity. Petroski emphasizes that these "small things" aren't in fact the results of a smooth and simple design process, but are rather the products of a constellation of oft-conflicting constraints, frequently with unintended consequences (consider the recently redesigned, fat-handled toothbrushes that, while more ergonomic, have rendered millions of traditional toothbrush holders useless). The book meanders through this world of design, less concerned with making a direct argument than with reveling in the complexities of the ever-changing design of everyday things, such as Brita water pitchers and freeway tollbooths. The writing is engaging and approachable, and reading the book feels like sitting down for a long chat with that favorite uncle who seems to know a bit about everything and never hesitates to throw in his own take on matters. Petroski's histories of, among others, paper cups and duct tape are fascinating, and this book leaves us a little more conscious of the never-ending design process of our modern world. 22 photos. (Sept. 22)

Reviewed on: 07/21/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
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