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#33 What can jenga, champagne flutes and musical knives teach us about design?
It’s Design Lobster #33. This week we ask where the bubbles from champagne come from and why it once made sense to sing from a knife. Grab your cutlery and take a seat. 🍽
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Question: When is imperfection part of the design?
I was reading recently about the science of champagne bubbles. Each glass contains on average 20 million bubbles and their formation depends on there being either tiny imperfections at the bottom of the glass or microscopic fibre deposits from the air (or a cleaning cloth). Simply put, if there are no imperfections, then there are no bubbles. Champagne glass manufacturers nowadays don’t leave this to chance and etch small nicks into the base as a bubble nursery, often in an attractive ring pattern.
The same tiny imperfections are at work in making the game of Jenga enjoyable to play. Have you ever wondered why some bricks are much easier to remove than others? The answer lies in microscopic differences in height between bricks that mean the weight of the tower gets passed down the tower in unexpected ways.
Unlike champagne glasses, these are not artificial imperfections created deliberately but occur naturally during the manufacturing process due to variations in the dryness of the wood and tolerances in the machines used for cutting it.
Perfectly imperfect has become a bit of a pop-psychology cliché these days. But in the case of these designs it’s exactly right.
Design takeaway: Would your design work better if it was a bit less perfect?
A podcast with the inventor of Jenga.
Object: Musical knives
Above: 16th century musical knives - thanks to Diane Doniol-Valcroze (photo by Johan Osterman)
Something whimsical for you this week. I was charmed recently by these 16th century knives which have the music and lyrics of a short Grace for several singing parts engraved on them. They’re beautifully made and strike me as rather romantic.
At the same time I think there’s something deliciously pragmatic about their design. In a society where paper was a scarce and expensive commodity it would make sense to write (or engrave) on other materials if you could. Looking around a dinner table, the wide blade of a knife is a good substitute for a small piece of paper and has the additional benefit of being wipe clean.
I say we should write more on our cutlery. Conversation starters, riddles – a lot of design fun to be had there if you ask me. 🍴
Design takeaway: What objects might unexpectedly make sense as a place to share information?
This is what the music on the knives sounds like.
Quote: “Most breakthroughs occur when conventional wisdom from one field is combined with a smidgen of insight from some unlikely place.
It is often that small piece of information that breaks a logjam and points to entirely new directions.”
– Greg Satell @digitaltonto
Greg here makes the case for keeping your interests broad and remaining open to distraction. Creative solutions to problems can often come from unexpected places, well beyond the usual confines of one’s specific discipline.
Indeed that’s part of the raison d’être of Design Lobster, to expose you to those small pieces of information that might present you a with a new way forward.
Keep discovering. 🦞
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