Rules

Rules make life easier. But they also impede the awareness and development of alternatives and new perspectives.

We love rules, routine and “norms” because we can just do what everyone else does/expects us to do and not think about things too much.

But rules, routine and “norms” also lull us into unquestioning complacency – a dangerous state of being in the age of constant disruptive change.

There is a constant pull and push between the safety on known routines and adventures in the unknown chaos.

Perhaps rules are another way of expressing an ideal, a vision. By its nature a vision or a rule is necessarily black and white or absolute. For immediate clarity, and to create a compelling cause. “Thous shalt not steal” is a great example. It expresses and idealised vision of perfect behaviour.

Real life of course is gray. The absolute interpretation of such law is not necessarily the higher choice, and may work against compassion and humanity. A desperately poor person who steals a loaf of bread is the obvious case in point.

In design, rules can take of the form of design ideology and design language. The Thinkpad design ideology is that of an understated box which reveals a rich powerful and reliable tool when opened. Its design language is a simple black box with rubberised paint, clean angles, a chamfered edge, and a red Trackpoint nipple.

Apple’s design language is also very easy to spot, and widely emulated. White objects of desire with rounded corners, gently tapering edges, glossy shiny plastics and glass, and huge back-lit “look at me look at me” logos. If you are vaguely fashionable, you will likely have Apple-branded products.

Rules are meant to be broken, once you understand their original intentions. The latest new generation of Thinkpads now come in different colours. There is a fine line between knowing when to break or bend the rules so as to evolved a product, and breaking the rules so inappropriately so as to destroy the underlying coherence and vision.

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