My take on Gray Holland’s periodic table of form.

In March 2009 Gray Holland of Alchemy Labs wrote an article for Core77.com that describes the differences in form and their geometrical breakdown based on Fig. 1 citing specific examples ranging from the F-22 Raptor to the MacBook Pro.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Now while I do agree that this study of form is important, I also do believe it is flawed. Not based on the set of pretty renderings above in Fig. 1 but in the distinct divide that is created in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Here Mr. Holland has divided design and engineering. To agree or even suggest that design is separate from engineering  undermines the entire field of industrial design. It immediately places design in a surface styling role as opposed to offering legitimacy to the process of design/research/etc. Are we saying that designers just make pretty pictures all day? Yeah, and account managers just jet-set, right? No, of course not. I have modified the above into Fig. 3.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Cited in “Design For The Real World”, Victor Papanek illustrated what he called the Function Complex (Fig. 4) In such, all other variables are contained through engineering to aesthetics. We need to be careful, as designers, when calling out these roles. I know that, myself personally, I don’t want to be considered a stylist, nor an engineer. I’d love to have both worlds. As I spend a large part of my day doing tangible qualitative research¬† and rational explorations of form.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

With the evolution of failures through specialization, generalists are always right behind; sweeping up and re-innovating what is a need in order to refine the problems. This process is seemingly indefinite. As Henry Petroski illustrated in “The Evolution of Useful Things”, the hammer is a wonderful case study of how form does not follow function, but rather failure. Where one hammer fails to specialize, another is right there ready to pick up the slack. In “The Hammer: The King of Tools” there are “…over a hundred pages of photographs, typically showing ten or twelve different styles per page, of odd and unusual hammers and hammer heads.” Indicating directly that aesthetics, use, method, etc., are all at play together, not separate.

I’m hoping this connection adds a little more respect to the field. I do, my off time, enjoy making overly large swooping speed forms and clumsy robots, but this is more technical exercise and personal satisfaction rather than exploration of function. And on the other side, I spend bulk loads of time researching the expansion percentages of plastics, powder-coating technologies, and so forth; further expanding the other side of that road. Both are important and balanced. Please do not illustrate a separation of design and engineering as they are one in the same. The only difference is one lives on the surface and one underneath.

~Gabe