‘Thinking outside the box’ is a popular saying of creative people. Or from people who want to make people creative. Working outside the box often yields surprising new insights. Which you then have to translate back into ‘the box’. After all, that is reality, the context within which your product or service must thrive.
You can also consciously develop ‘inside the box’. What can you do with your limitations? How can you turn a weakness into a strength? How do you ensure the best, creative solution with a limited budget – scarcity makes you inventive? In other words: How can you row with what you have and still win the race?
The basic attitude is ‘think again’. You frame your problem in a different way and suddenly there is a really cool twist. You look and look and suddenly, by chance, you see something that potentially means a breakthrough. On this page some examples of my own practice.
Mycelium is, in short, the root system of a mushroom. The single-celled organism eats sugars and converts them into growth. Sugars are found in wood chips and sawdust, for example. The mycelium eats the wood and replaces it with a sturdy network of threads. You can make nice objects from this, as we have been doing for a while at Studio de Kiemkamer. But…. the objects you grow are fragile. They cannot tolerate rain and sun. After a few months outside, there is little left of your creation. And then rethinking it into an interesting frame: ‘how can we turn the vulnerability of mycelium into a strength?’ How can we utilize its weakness?
This framing resulted in the ‘support island’. In order for oxygen-rich aquatic plants to float in canals and other waters, they need volume and ‘buoyancy’ (buoyancy). Individual plants do not have this, but a group of plants with intertwined roots does. And so we made a mycelium island with holes in it, with an aquatic plant in each hole that hangs with its roots through the hole in the water. Mycelium has enormous buoyancy, so the aquatic plants are given ‘training wheels’ until the roots have grown sufficiently that the island can float without the mycelium. The mycelium only needs to remain intact for a few months (it can) before it decays. It is a natural product, so we create green islands without plastic or other junk.
The art of omission
A framing that I often use is ‘how much of x can you leave out while retaining the function?’ This frame has led, among other things, to the ‘invention’ of the Ecofont, a font to save ink. The challenge was ‘How much of the letter can you leave out while maintaining legibility?’ We shot holes in the letter and removed as much as possible without affecting the legibility of the text. And that turned out to be quite a lot, because the brain fills in the blanks itself. The Ecofont proved to be a success for the printer market, where ink is more expensive than gold and any savings are welcome.
The solution must always be simple. And preferably simpler than the existing solution. Making a complex product is not difficult, but a simple product is. A simple rule I use for my industrial designers: if you add 1 thing to the solution, 1 thing has to go.