Ariel Cooke-Zamora - September 19th, 2023
Do we really need to keep reinventing the wheel? Sure, there are many different wheels, each suited to various needs, and there will be many more new wheels to come, but is remaking the wheel every time someone walks into the wheel store productive?
Say we want to design a new wheel. Where do we start?
Let's look at the characteristics that make a wheel a wheel:
It needs to spin, right? Right, that’s essential.
It should ideally be round. That checks out.
It should be on an axle onto which the exterior loads are distributed from the outer surface to the centre through some sort of structure. Sure.
And it needs to have a surface material that makes contact with its environment…
Oh shoot, now we’re getting into external factors. At the moment where the wheel interfaces with its environment, it must respond to both the surface it makes contact with and its wheel properties. This is where the rubber meets the road, literally.
Our wheel store has been in business for a while. We have crafted, tried, and tested many wheel designs. We make wheels that perform excellently, and we know where we have the freedom for artistic expression to make beautiful wheels, if I do say so myself.
Heck, we’re so good at making wheels that they’re both performative and aesthetic.
There’s another wheel store next door.
They pride themselves in seeing each wheel as an opportunity to start again. They tell me that a functionalist reduction of the wheel limits creativity, so they reinvent at all stages of design and god-forbid if they ever do the same thing twice. They do make very nice wheels, but they complain that they work too hard and make too little.
I tell them that one needs only to look at the diversity of wheels around the world to see that functionalism is not a cause for homogeneity. The thing is, a great deal of effort is spent on the parts that make the wheel a wheel. A wheel’s gotta wheel! And we have been accomplishing this fundamental purpose for thousands of years.
There are still many beautiful, creative, innovative, sustainable, and buzzword things to do in wheel design. The balance between progress and invention lies in knowing when to revisit the essential qualities that make the wheel a wheel. We can all save a lot of time and work towards better designs by simply keeping it wheel.