commentary, fun!

whimsical utility

This is a relentless age we’re living in, a time when innovative solutions — or any solutions, for that matter — to our seemingly infinite problems seem in short supply.

So how do we come up with new ideas? How do we learn to think outside of normal parameters? Are the processes in place for doing so flawed? Do we rely too much on computer models? On consultants? On big-idea gurus lauding the merits of tribes and crowds or of starfish and spiders? On Twitter?

At the risk of sounding like a big-idea guru myself, I can’t help thinking that we’re all so mired in it that we’ve forgotten how to get out of it — how to daydream, invent, engage with the absurd.

Allison Arieff of NYT’s By Design blog in a recent piece on Steven M. Johnson, who she describes as an “inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner,” whose designs tend “toward the nodes where social issues intersect with design and urban planning issues.”  They’re ideas that are absurd, but delightfully so, and in the way that makes you quietly think, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Below, a few of his designs.

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