July 31, 2007
Frank Gehry's Designing By Prototype

Columnist Dale Dauten wrote recently about some of the insights on creative thinking gained from observing the revolutionary architect in "The Sketches of Frank Gehry," Director Sydney Pollack's first documentary, new on DVD. "We get to learn how a genius works," he writes.

"Frank Gehry is the architect who did the curving, soaring metal walls of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, as well as Disney Hall in Los Angeles. He is the one who lets us walk into 'out of the box.'

"During his early Gehry spent his time hanging out with artists rather than fellow architects.

"He works by taking sheets of heavy paper and making models out of them. Not blocks, not wood or Styrofoam, but paper. When one of the models becomes an idea worth pursuing, it goes through an evolution, a series of models of increasing sophistication."

Dauten, taking the dare, as it were, starts creatively cross-referencing:
"If we wanted to apply his style to, say, working on a new sales presentation, we wouldn't use other sales presentations for ideas, we'd use novels or plays, movies, paintings . . . maybe even, I don't know, zoos, or airports. And not just one, but dozens. Some would become rough models, several going at once."
"Inside the brain of a genius lies lessons on generating & implementing ideas" by Dale Dauten, 5/6/07

(Gehry's "Dancing Building" in Prague. Uploaded on Flickr by astilly.)

Rapid Prototyping, Dan Bricklin, & "Serious Play"

This reminded me of another recent read on the power of creating with the method of "rapid prototyping," from Dan Bricklin's blog. Bricklin is of course the co-inventor of the electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc (the original Excel, and the first "killer app" on what were then "personal computers"), among other programming breakthroughs in simplification.

Bricklin was recommending a book by a friend of his, "Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate," by Michael Schrage. (Serious Play -- a mighty concept in its own right.)

Bricklin writes,

"Ever since my father first taught me as a child to prototype things before I built them, simulation has been a major part of my career. He was a printer who learned to mock up brochures and newsletters before printing to make sure his customers knew what they'd get. I applied the technique when creating the spreadsheet, itself a prototyping tool, going through several prototypes before Bob (Frankston) and I built the real thing, learning a lot from each."

The principle here is to work fast and loose in the draft phase, to let the ideas flow. Then it's easier to see what you've got, so you're constructing the end-product from an already evolved version. That's the right time to get real particular about the particulars, not when you're first developing the raw idea.

Posted by at July 31, 2007 01:27 PM

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