Teaching Old Designs New Tricks


Question: What do the QWERTY keyboard, the railroad, and shoelaces have in common?

Answer: Their inventors are long gone.

The QWERTY keyboard was the brainchild of American inventor Christopher Latham Sholes. He died in 1890, but if your left ring finger lands naturally on the letter “s”—thank Sholes.

The railroad evolved much more slowly than the QWERTY keyboard, starting with wagon ruts that were used to keep cars from straying off the road in the 1550s and earlier. Modern steel rails took off with the invention of the Bessemer steel process in the late 1860s, and today, steel rail lines and cars remain essential to industry all over the world.

If you want to know who invented the shoelace, you might have to ask Ötzi the Iceman. He lived around 3300 BCE. Archeologists found him mummified with his shoes still laced in lime bark string.

What’s my point? Well, that despite the quick pace of technology, some innovations outlast their inventors. Not just because they’re “exsanguinated” after an arrow strike to the shoulder (like unfortunate Ötzi), but also because people retire, change jobs, or go on long vacations and forget to recharge their mobile phones.

Yet, no matter how the original inventors go offline, their designs still may be valuable today. Too bad, because often the original design intent is just as lost as its inventor. And that’s the topic of this week’s Product Design Show.

Click the Play arrow to see how Vince and Allison recover a model and teach an old design a few new intents:

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