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Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Designby Henry Petroski
Synopses & Reviews
Henry Petroski, “America’s poet laureate of technology” (Kirkus Reviews)–author of The Pencil and The Evolution of Useful Things–now gives us an entertaining and perceptive study of design in everyday life, while revealing the checkered pasts, and some possible futures, of familiar objects.
Chairs, lightbulbs, cup holders, toothbrushes, doorknobs, light switches, potato peelers, paper bags, duct tape–as ubiquitous as these may be, they are still works in progress. The design of such ordinary items demonstrates the simple brilliance of human creativity, while at the same time showing the frustration of getting anything completely right. Nothing’s perfect, and so the quest for perfection continues to continue.
In this engrossing and insightful book, Petroski takes us inside the creative process by which common objects are invented and improved upon in pursuit of the ever-elusive perfect thing. He shows us, for instance, how the disposable paper cup became a popular commercial success only after the public learned that shared water glasses could carry germs; how it took years, an abundance of business panache, and many discarded models–from cups that opened like paper bags to those that came with pleats–for the inventor of the paper cup to arrive at what we now use and toss away without so much as a thought for its fascinating history.
A trenchant, surprising evaluation of why some designs succeed and others don’t, Small Things Considered is also an utterly delightful study of human nature.
Henry Petroski, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University, lives in Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of ten previous books.
From the Hardcover edition.
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.
About the Author
\Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. He is the author of ten previous books.
Table of Contents
The nature of design — Looking at design — Design, design everywhere — Illuminating design — Driven by design — Design in a box — Labyrinthine design — Design out of a paper bag — Domestic design — Folk design — Kitchen-sink design — Off-the-shelf design — Familiar design — Design by the numbers — Selective design — A brush with design — Design hits the wall — Design rising.
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