Evolving design criteria

Whenever we evaluate what we're already using to get a job done, we get ideas for something better. The way we see the status quo can limit or extend the possibilities we consider. This applies to both designers of new things as well as their users.

Printed pamphlets, books and newspapers once had their type set by hand. These skilled craftspeople are called typesetters. Some excelled at this craft. They became faster and more efficient at getting the right letters placed in the right order with the right amount of spacing to line up evenly on both margins. Their exceptional conduct defined some design criteria when the typesetting process became mechanized.

The first generation of machines replicated how the best typesetters worked their craft. Mark Twain went bankrupt funding this venture. A second generation design redefined how the work of typesetting got done. The Linotype process eventually became the industry standard. Different design criteria were invented in this process that changed how to judge which ideas were obsolete and which could be improved upon.

A similar evolution occurred with computer printers and fax machines. The first generation of dot matrix and daisy wheel printers used ribbons like manual and electric typewriters. Laser printers with toner cartridges and PostScript printer drivers reinvented how printing occurred. Ink jet printing and other font systems opened the field to many lower cost printers. We now often consider not printing something out if its more accessible, searchable, archive-able and replicable when kept onscreen, online or on disk. Our criteria for designing new software tools and evaluating the use of printers have become more sophisticated.

Users also change the criteria they use to decide what they want to buy, what will be useful to them and what is worth the purchase price. Automobiles were originally called "horseless carriages". They were evaluated as a different kind of horse. Once they no longer had manual cranks on the front of the crankcase, they were called automobiles in reference to the automatic ignition system that simply required "turning a key". As their usage became more widespread, nicknames entered into our vocabulary. Carriages became cars and automobiles became autos. Now we speak of " a nice ride" as if what a car does for us has superseded what it is.

Online instruction, communities and reading materials mostly appear to replicate what goes in classrooms. We're still at the stage of first generation typesetting machines, changing printer ribbons and thinking of cars as horseless carriages. Our design criteria are defined by the previous ways we got the job done. However, the design criteria we are using are also evolving. A second generation of models, tools and uses is on the horizon.

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