Bionics: Abandon Perfection
Of all the organisms that evolution has produced, the fungi behind the formation of mushrooms are some of the simplest. Their existence is basically a piece of cake. They eat food which requires no hunting, foraging, or even complex digestive systems; Dead trees and leaves don't run too fast. And when it comes to reproduction, they do "mate" to combine genetic material, but often they just create spores and spread to a new food source. With such a simple lifestyle, it seems like a common morphology would emerge for the spore-spreading mechanisms -- the above-ground parts we call mushrooms.
But the truth is, mushrooms come in as many varied shapes and sizes as any other type of plant or animal. All of the following mushrooms were photographed on a hike of less than 4 miles through eastern Pennsylvania. In that small space, there were at least 20 different varieties, and probably many more that went uncounted.
Some of them were typical:
And some pushed the basics with a little color, possibly to help spread their spores through the digestive systems of animals.
Some were specially designed to break down tree trunks:
Some used the puffball approach to spore dispersion, ejecting them from vacuum-bag like dust pouches when disturbed:
Some grew straight from leaf litter, with grace and beauty:
And some couldn't have defined beauty if you gave them cue cards:
The key idea to take away is that none of these mushrooms are different for the sake of difference, or because they are somehow less than perfect. Instead, each one of them has been tuned by millions of years of selection to nicely address their own peculiar niche of the world. Product design is no different; The idea that one perfect cellphone or MP3 player will work for all users is just as ludicrous as a single mushroom which is best for growing out of spongy dead leaves and hard standing dead trees. At the same time, the value in each design comes from its own peculiar adaptation to the new "marketplace" of food and environment variables. New products must have new, specific functionality. The market is not stupid, or forgiving on this point; variably functional phones will beat out face plates any day of the week.
When you're working on that next account, or that new school project, remember this: There is always room for more good solutions to problems in the world. Problems too, are never in short supply. Don't work toward some distant perfection; Work to solve this problem well now. The previous design is always dragging on the function of the current one.
Don't reinvent the wheel, but don't assume that you need to perfect a wheel when a typewriter is what you really want.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team