Tag knowledge

Eyes Wide Open II.

Several years ago, I designed a sugar dispenser for an industrial design class.  I decided on this particular challenge after seeing just how quickly sugar poured out of a similar dispenser at a local restaurant.  Through the design process, I discovered that it was my various interests that played a key role in the final product.

Here are a few examples:

Model Railroading: Once I had a general idea for what the dispenser would look like along with the relative dimensions, I created “sketch models” which are basically rough prototypes made from various materials.  Thinking back to my model railroading days, I chose styrene plastic for later prototypes along with the final model.  Styrene is typically used for the construction of miniature buildings used on a model railroad, and I decided that the material would work well for this project.

Architecture (Core): I wanted the dispenser to be very modern looking and sleek; ultimately something much different from those you would normally see in a restaurant.  I ultimately decided to model the dispenser similar in structure to a modern skyscraper, and I chose a variation of styrene to match the building’s fascade (narrow vertical lines without horizontal equivalents).

Architecture (Supplemental): While I liked the skyscraper concept, I felt that another design element was needed.  In one of my visits to the Los Angeles area I noticed a building that had a protruding metal “screen” with large-scale letters inset within (negative space).  I decided that I would do the reverse and project letters outward (positive space).  But what letters?

Chemistry & Flight Training: Here I combined my original undergraduate goal (chemical engineering) with my flight training experience to come up with the “surface layer” that would rest on one of the dispenser “walls.”  The chemical formula for sugar contains the elements Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen.  Similarly, the airport code relative where I was living is CHO (Charlottesville-Albemarle).  Clearly, the gods had spoken.

The process of designing an object, vehicle, experience, etc. that has value in the real world takes not only solid design skills, it requires the ability to pull from multiple disciplines and incorporate those findings into something powerful.

Until perhaps now, I have always believed that my desire for knowledge was simply leading me astray from a specialization of some sort.  My experiences over the past several years have altered this belief; I now believe my innate curiosity enables versatility and a strong design sense, two things that I highly value.

While I believe that specialization in a given field and/or domain is in my future (that was my original goal all along), I envision staying “plugged in” to just about everything and anything that interests me.  It’s these interests that will continue to play a key role in my technical and creative development – the combination of which will continue to grow beyond what I’ve accomplished to date.


Knowledge transmission.

“The point here is that the crucial knowledge in any innovative industry is not standardized information, routine patterns or the public knowledge of science.  It is also often not the kind of data that can be obtained through quantitative market research involving the analysis of secondary data or statistical survey research, nor from qualitative methods such as focus groups and interviews.  What is really useful is what is new, what are the latest changes and the specialized know-how that individuals have acquired through practice and mistakes.

Pierre Desrochers, “Geographical proximity and the transmission of tacit knowledge,” The Review of Austrian Economics

Foretelling the Future.

I have been reading Isaac Asimov’s Prelude to Foundation (first published in 1988) off and on over the past several months.  I found it interesting that several passages towards the middle of the book bear a close resemblance to features found within Amazon’s Kindle:


“The pages aren’t blank, they’re covered with microprint.  [..]  If I press this little nubbin on the inner edge of the cover – Look!”  The pages to which the book lay open was suddenly covered with lines of print that rolled slowly upward.


Seldon said, “You can adjust the rate of upward movement to match your reading speed by slightly twisting the nubbin one way or the other.  When the lines of print reach their upward limit – when you reach the bottom line, that is – they snap downward and turn off.  You turn to the next page and continue.”


[…] “Where does the energy come from that does all this?”

“It has an enclosed microfusion battery that lasts the life of the book.”


[…] This type of book has its advantages.  It holds far more than an ordinary visual book does.”

Whether the origins of the Kindle started with these passages, I am unsure.  In any case, Asimov’s role was not to develop an electronic reader – rather it was to develop an idea that others could take and build upon.  In this particular case, this fictional concept was eventually developed into a real product.

This is important to understand because the lifespan of a given concept is, I think, undefined.  We may never know where Asimov obtained the seeds for these passages, just as we do not yet know what other technologies may come from the electronic reader.