Words matter. These are the best Henry Petroski Quotes, and they’re great for sharing with your friends.
It is really want, rather than need, that drives the process of technological evolution.
Successful design is not the achievement of perfection but the minimization and accommodation of imperfection.
Case studies of failure should be made a part of the vocabulary of every engineer so that he or she can recall or recite them when something in a new design or design process is suggestive of what went wrong in the case study.
I have always been fascinated by the way things work and how they came to take the form that they did. Writing about these things satisfies my curiosity about the made world while at the same time giving me an opportunity to design a new explanation for the processes that shape it.
Luxury, not necessity, is the mother of invention. Every artifact is somewhat wanting in its function, and that is what drives its evolution.
We can’t simply blame the engineers when things go wrong because, no matter how well they plan, things don’t always go according to plan.
Design is nothing if not decision making.
Indeed, an engineer designing a structure is not unlike an artist painting one. Both start with nothing but talent, experience, and inspiration. The fresh piece of paper on the drawing board is as blank as the newly stretched piece of canvas.
Engineering is achieving function while avoiding failure.
Read and write with a sensitive ear. The craft of writing is very important. Practice the craft.
Betting on the success of innovative technologies in the marketplace can carry all the uncertainty and risk that betting on the next card in the deck does at a blackjack table in Las Vegas. There is a factor of randomness that must be factored in, but precisely how to do so is anyone’s guess.
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by things large and small. I wanted to know what made my watch tick, my radio play, and my house stand. I wanted to know who invented the bottle cap and who designed the bridge. I guess from early on I wanted to be an engineer.
I’m a firm believer that no matter how small an object is, you can find interesting things out about it and its history.
Although engineers want always to make everything better, they cannot make anything perfect. This basic characteristic flaw of the products of the profession’s practitioners is what drives change and makes achievement a process rather than simply a goal.
It seems to be a law of design that for every advantage introduced through redesign, there is an accompanying unintended disadvantage.
Many new technologies come with a promise to change the world, but the world refuses to cooperate.
You can almost say that a design error is a human error because, after all, it’s we humans who do the designing.
Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail.
My first book, ‘To Engineer Is Human,’ was prompted by nonengineer friends asking me why so many technological accidents and failures were occurring. If engineers knew what they were doing, why did bridges and buildings fall down? It was a question that I had often asked myself, and I had no easy answer.
The definition of ‘safe’ is not strictly an engineering term; it’s a societal term. Does it mean absolutely no loss of life? Does it mean absolutely no contamination with radiation? What exactly does ‘safe’ mean?
All conventional wisdom has an element of truth to it, but good design requires more than an element of truth – it requires an ensemble of correct assumptions and valid calculations.
We call the fates of the Titanic and the Concordia – as well as those of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia – ‘accidents.’ Foreseeing such undesirable events is what engineers are expected to do. However, design trade-offs leave technological systems open to failings once predicted, but later forgotten.
As long as there are things to wonder about, there are stories to be written about them. That makes me happy, because writing about things seems to be my thing.
Because every design must satisfy competing objectives, there necessarily has to be compromise among, if not the complete exclusion of, some of those objectives, in order to meet what are considered the more important of them.
No design, no matter how common or seemingly insignificant, is without its adamant critics as well as its ardent admirers.
Failure is central to engineering. Every single calculation that an engineer makes is a failure calculation. Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail.
Any design, whether it’s for a ship or an airplane, must be done in anticipation of potential failures.
Typically, highway bridges have about 50 years. But over in England, they have iron bridges approaching 250 years. In France, there are Roman aqueducts that are approaching 2,000 years old. So a bridge can last a very long time if it’s built properly in the first place and then maintained properly.
The paradox is that when we model future designs on past successes, we are inviting failure down the line; when we take into account past failures and anticipate potential new ways in which failure can occur, we are more likely to produce successful designs.
Everything we do is designed, whether we’re producing a magazine, a website, or a bridge. Design is really the creative invention that designs everything.
I employ case studies of failure into my courses, emphasizing that they teach us much more than studies of success. It is not that success stories cannot serve as models of good design or as exemplars of creative engineering. They can do that, but they cannot teach us how close to failure they are.
The same aspirations to celebrate and uplift the spirit that drove the Egyptians to build the pyramids are still driving us. The things we’re doing differ only in magnitude.
If I could go upstairs and write every day, I would be happy. I don’t need recreation.