One pitfall that I think just about every product designer goes through is limiting the potential of the design by restricting the product’s use to one market. For example, when Arm & Hammer’s Baking Soda first came out, they probably thought that it could be used to bake various things and that must have been good enough. However,in the decades to come, the marketing team has suggested using their product to reduce smells in the fridge, trashcan and sink, or adding it to soaps, toothpastes and detergents. The full potential of the product wasn’t realized at first, and only now to we see the variety of ways that baking soda can be used.
In a similar way, I was limiting myself at first by imagining how I would use my products, or someone that fits my demographic. I decided to do a quick thought exercise by pushing the grid wall’s use outside my normal context. I think this helped me think about how I might not know what the future potential of a product would be, so you need to make it robust and flexible enough that it can adapt to different cultures, scenarios and materials.
This first rendering is a grid wall inside the home of an Amish community. It was provocative for me to imagine what the Amish would do with my wall, or with a CNC mill for that matter. I know that they refuse many modern conveniences in the world, but they also like to be self sufficient, and have an eye for woodcraft. I think they would like the grid wall because it’s doesn’t have any ornament and it’s utilitarian and flexible.
This next rendering shows something that is much more conventional to Midwest America: a mudroom shelf. This is an idea found in Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, which he talks about having an area near the back entrance where you can kick off your shoes, hang a coat and store your pocket items.
Another location more difficult to imagine hosting the grid wall would be a traditional Japanese tea room. However, if I were to try and convince someone to build a grid wall inside this space, I would have a few arguments. First, there are already modular sizes that exist in the room, such as the floor mats. Also, I know something special about these spaces is the beauty of organic wood shapes contrasting the rectilinear forms. You could argue that plywood does this in a way with the grain of the wood verses the rectangular shape of the sheets.
Another example straight from Christopher Alexander is the alcove space. Alexander wrote in A Pattern Language that a family house should contain main living spaces to be communal, while at the same time provide for side spaces that individuals can claim for themselves. This rendering shows an alcove space containing a seat and work surface along the wall of a living room.
My last rendering is a result of my work as a teachers assistant in Karen Keddy’s cultural and social issues class. One of the big architectural issues in the Middle East right now is gender segregation and many times this is accomplished using walls. So even if I would not wish to design something for the reason of segregating gender, it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t someday be used for this reason. It is interesting to me to think about how unpredictable a products use would be if it was released to the world.
I think the most important aspect of this wall is that it is open source which means that I don’t need to dictate how it is used or what it is used for. Everyone that will design a module for this wall bring their own bias, culture, and specialty to the mix.