Management Tips

How Japanese Toothpicks and Wallets affect the Projects we do.

One thing that most everyone has is a wallet.

A wallet is a ubiquitous accessory.

It is also an object of industrial design that serves a singular purpose while leaving so much room to become superfluous. Think about that. It can be as simple as a bill fold. Elegant. Sleek. Or it can be as complex as to require instructions to operate. You know the ones that have pockets, clasps, compartments, zippers, snaps and so on and so on into infinity. The issue with wallets is that they afford us the opportunity to add stuff we really don’t need and they also propagate the old school means of exchange.

Let me ask you.

How often do you use cash anymore? Yeah, you still need it but it’s more of a notion these days than it is tangible. Cash is practically virtual.

Why do we still need wallets?

My wallet is a virtual wallet that holds all my virtual cash. It really doesn’t exist (hence virtual). Well, actually, I do still have one, a wallet that is, that holds some items that I do need in my life but not on a regular basis. The Tumi rarely makes an appearance anymore.

So, here’s what I need to make it through a day.

  • Debit card – gets me what I need
  • TTC Transit pass card – gets me there
  • Starbucks Card – keeps me awake
  • Access card – gets me in
  • VISA card – in case of emergency

That’s it. Really. How about you?

Now I know that not everyone has the luxury of that level of simplicity. If you commute long distances and you have a car you need a licence and insurance with you. There are other examples. Insurance cards, other credit cards, rewards cards, gift cards, cards and more cards. Hey we live in a 3 ½ x 2 inch magnetic strip plastic world now and soon our smart phones will replace it all. Who needs coins and paper anymore? Drug dealers, pimps and pawn shops, that’s about it.

Where will it all stop?

Well, wherever you want it to I suppose. Sometimes it’s difficult to eliminate things from our lives that we just don’t need especially access to purchases. I have three Starbucks cards. Gifts mostly. I also have cards to Golf Town and The Home Depot. More gifts. There is an American Express card in my life primarily for emergencies. That’s about it. I ditched the rest and I can’t remember the last time I opened my wallet. Most of us carry around a man-bag, briefcase (for those old timers) or a purse anyway so what’s the need for another objet d’art to hold more stuff? Sorry ladies, I have yet to meet one of you that are not fascinated with the bling of a fancy designer wallet. Oh well. Coach, MK, Gucci, Kate Spade and the list goes on (I just peeked into my wife’s closet to get that list). But that’s different, right? It’s an ACCESSORY and not a function of necessity. Men will never get THAT you may well think.

Where am I going with all this?

Well, in thinking about the wallet it brings me to the finality of the term “form follows function” originally coined by the American architect Louis Sullivan. Form follows function basically unifies art (the design of an object), craft (the design of the process to make that object), and technology (the design of the equipment to produce that object) into a singular premise.

Simplicity.

A perfect example of this is the Japanese toothpick. The serrated or ribbed end can be broken away when it has been used and the end, once broken away, becomes a stand for the edge of the toothpick so that it does not touch the surface of a table. Simple. Functional. Perfect.

Form follows function.

The term, form follows function, basically taught me that the superfluous is no longer relevant. Yes, yes, every designer and architect I know is probably rolling their eyes right now. I can just FEEL the sarcasm. It’s a simple, common edict in the world of design and anyone who even has an inkling towards modernism knows I am just stating the obvious but let me ask you this; how easy is it to pull off?

More eyes roll.

Hey there, big shooter, do you have this mastered? Not on your life but like everything else in life it’s a WORK IN PROGRESS. One that is, in all things we do, a life’s pursuit.

So, how do I apply this to MY world you might ask?

Well, you likely work on some form of project in your daily life. When I think about form follows function the application to project management is palpable for me. But how can that help you? When you apply this attitude to the methods you might use to manage your project, your design or the problem you have been asked to solve it forces you to look at the function of process and eliminate everything but the basic needs of the problem you see. It affords you the opportunity to break the problem solving process down to its basic parts. It forces you to solve for it and not add anything back in that is not required. No extra words, no extra plans, no extra steps, no extra anything. Only what you need. It forces you to work simply, find and emphasise efficiency and seek the critical path.

In terms that we all understand these days; form follows function makes you KEEP IT REAL!

Singular vision. Singular focus.

So you may argue that this concept could be seen as inflexible which we all know is exactly not what good project work is about. Flexibility, as we all know, is a key component to the success of your project. What form follows function was trying to achieve in its rigidity was the purity of form. The form was not to be influenced by any outside forces that would compromise its purpose.

The same holds true with your project.

Ask yourself this question. When you know the goal and you know your deliverable what else do you need?

Now I am not talking about change. Change is inevitable but your purpose should not change. Your schedule may change. Your purpose should not. Your resource needs will evolve. Your purpose should not. Your project will evolve just the way a buildings form evolves but your purpose should remain true to its original intent. The purpose? The purpose is to complete the project within the vision that was established at its outset.

The form of your vision should include only the essential requirements and follow only the essential steps to fulfill its function.

Easier said than done? Tell me why.

About this Author: Ralph Dopping (195 Posts)

A quirky sense-o-humour coupled with an indelible sense of stylish sarcasm makes it difficult to take the world too seriously doesn't it? My faves: fun, passion and hard work. I work here everyday: www.designdialog.ca


0 comments