Something struck me when we were touring the Robie House in Chicago a couple weeks ago.
Frank Lloyd Wright, obsessed with details, took great care in designing the tiny details in his houses. The light fixtures. The furniture. The windows. The rugs, of all things. He wanted his buildings to be a cohesive whole, with every one of those details adding to the experience of their architecture.
But he was only this fanatical about the “public” spaces. The sides of the building facing public streets. The entryways, the living and dining rooms, the areas used for entertaining. The upstairs of the Robie House — the bedrooms, mainly — is still of course meticulously planned and designed, but Wright didn’t bother to design the furniture or light fixtures in the master bedroom. Since Mr. and Mrs. Robie, presumably, wouldn’t be entertaining guests there, he wasn’t as concerned. Same with the kitchen or servant’s quarters — he only put art glass in the kitchen windows that could have been seen from the street. (This also made me wonder how he’d design now, when kitchens are more often the central point of the “open concept floor plan” everybody wants nowadays.) (I also wonder what his thoughts on subway tile would be.)
This was a cost-effective way to design — why spend all the money on fancy art glass that no one’s gonna see (save the servants, and obviously, they’re not worth the extra expense)?
Steve Jobs, obsessed with details, made sure that even the insides of the Macintosh — which no one was ever meant to see, because the cases were designed to be impossible for the average person to crack open — were as beautiful and well-designed as the outside. He didn’t care that no one would see it; it was part of his design and therefore it had to match the outside. This meant spending more time tinkering with what were really insignificant details when designing the computers, the iMac, iPod, iPhone and most likely added to the cost of all those products.
Both men achieved amazingly great things and revolutionized their fields. But with dramatically different approaches to what I think is a fundamental design conundrum — how much time, attention, and cost should be paid to “hidden” parts of a product?
Two geniuses, masters, visionaries. Two schools of thought. Both wildly successful.
There’s no one right or wrong way to do anything. Yes, there are more and less effective options, methods, strategies. But if you think differently than one of the leaders in your field?
Who’s to say that just because the “way” that works best for you is different, is even the absolute opposite of what one leader preaches, that it won’t work?
If you’ve always done something — even, say, something as mundane as laundry, or cooking scrambled eggs — a certain way, the way you were taught, and it’s worked for you, and then someone comes along and says “Oh, no, you’re doing it wrong. Do it this way,” you have two options.
1) You can stubbornly cling to your way because it’s the way you’ve been doing it your whole life and it’s the right way, dammit.
2) You can open yourself to trying something new — and then deciding which way works best for you.
(Bonus option 3: You can realize there are probably a dozen or more ways to make scrambled eggs or tie your shoes or train for a marathon or start a business or whatever and remain open-minded enough to test out as many different methods that make sense until you find the one that’s yours.)