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#57 The smallest car in the world
...and the problem with problem-solving
Welcome to Design Lobster #57, this week we’re asking big questions and squeezing into tiny cars. Design of all shapes and sizes. 📐
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Question: Is design really problem-solving?
As designers we like to talk about our work as “problem-solving” – a phrase that has the ring of objectivity, implying a scientific precision. Despite this, I am always struck by the way an identical design problem approached by two different teams will always yield a different outcome.
I recently came across a presentation given by Hugh Dubberly in 2019 that offered some insight into this curious fact. He argues that not only are problems (and framings of problems) subjective, but that the very nature of problems change as we examine them and begin to craft solutions.
The quote below really stuck out to me:
“There is no direct path between the designer’s intention and the outcome. As you work a problem, you are continually in the process of developing a path into it, forming new appreciations and understandings as you make new moves.”
— Terry Winograd
The shape-shifting nature of problems will I’m sure be familiar to many designers reading this. Sometimes it can feel that you only truly understand a problem after multiple unsuccessful attempts to solve it. By this stage, it can often be too late to change the solution you are proposing!
I see Hugh’s talk as a reminder to stay hyper-conscious of the way we are defining problems, and to allow our problem frames to mutate during the design process. We should aim for a more fluid back and forth between solutions and our original definition of the problem.
Design takeaway: Do you need to change your definition of the problem you’re working on?
✍️ You can peruse the presentation here (lots of great quotes).
Object: Peel P50
In a world of ever larger and hungrier SUVs I invite you to consider the diminutive Peel P50, officially the smallest car in the world. Designed by Peel Engineering Company on the Isle of Man between 1962 and 1965, the car measured 137x99cm and weighed only 59kg. It could carry one person (and a shopping bag) & had a top speed of 28mph. The original model had no reverse gear so you’d need to pick it up and turn it around using a handle (as shown above).
The design (and that of other micro-cars such those from Heinkel & Isetta) was a response to the oil shock that followed the Suez Crisis of 1956. The car can be seen as an experiment in how to meet transportation needs while using less imported fuel.
In the end however, only about 50 were ever made. The cars were noisy and notoriously unstable, especially on uneven ground. As you might guess they were also highly unsafe in collisions. They live on however as popular collector’s items and are still technically road-legal in the UK and USA.
Design takeaway: Could your design be a tad smaller?
😂Watch somebody failing to climb out of their P.50.
Quote: “Want your users to fall in love with your designs? Fall in love with your users.”
– Dana Chisnell, co-founder of the Center for Civic Design
Dana Chisnell is a civic technologist who has done important work ensuring the accessibility and fairness of the US voting system. I really like this quote from her, which strikes me as a variation of the one we heard from Frank Chimero a few weeks back. It’s nice to think of design as a kind of love we can share with people, even if we never meet them.
Keep spreading the love,
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