September 01, 2007
Where do Great Ideas come from?

Ever notice how many times the biggest, most successful ideas come from closely imitating some principle at work in nature?

I've kept one particular book around for years both because it contained a statement that really rang my chimes, and it's full of beautiful, striking imagery. The book is, "Bridges, a history of the world's most famous and important spans," by Judith Dupre (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1997).


And its memorable, "Whoomp, (ta-ta, ta,) there it is," declaration:

"Bridges are based on one or more of three basic structures that are derived from forms found in nature: the beam, from a log fallen across a stream, the arch from natural rock formations, and the suspension from a hanging vine."

So there it is, again: a human "invention" that turns out to be fundamentally "derived from forms found in nature."

As you may have some dim Science class memory of, "Four types of forces act on bridges, either singularly or in combination: tension, compression, shear, and torsion." (Push, pull, slide and twist.) I add this to point out that building a bridge is not as easy as falling off a log, even when you are borrowing the design principle of the log.

There's that funny tendency to see things that work as simple and therefore easy to do. But as anyone who's made something look easy will tell you, it takes a long time and a lot of focused effort for it to appear that way. So, naturally, while a brilliant first step is to work from a natural model, the second, third, fourth, etc., steps are to work like hell refining it. But at least this way, you're working on a foundation that's worth building on.

Talk about creative thinking: this is a remarkable book for another reason. Like her elongated companion volume, "Skyscrapers" (only sideways), Ms. Dupre's book is printed in the long and low format of a foot-and-a-half wide by 8" tall, allowing her subjects to be pictured in their fully horizontal glory.

Posted by at September 1, 2007 04:49 PM


Bill, you made my day. I've been talking and writing about visual communication for years now, hoping to inspire people to take a good look at the world around them, and to feel the subject matter of my books which is conveyed in both images and text. Every so often someone like you gets what I am doing and it feels great! Thank you. You'll love my newest: Monuments: America's History in Art and Memory, coming out on November 6th.
Judith Dupre/

Posted by: Judith Dupre at September 1, 2007 10:28 PM

Thank you for your oh-so-gentle correction of Judith Dupre's name in my blog post. Your tone and style is so in keeping with the generous, educated spirit in which you write this captivating blog.
- another fan

Posted by: Kare [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2008 04:56 PM

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