Changing heroes in the middle of the stream: Raymond Loewy to Rube Goldberg


In my Toronto talk, I argued we’re changing heroes.

Specifically, we are moving from Raymond Loewy (above) to Rube Goldberg (below), from modernist stream lining to a world that is episodic, accidental, diverse in its composition, just barely interacting, always on the verge of stopping still, made from local materials, made from objects formed to another purpose, and inclined when they gain momentum to run like a river. 

Our world is less a beautiful idea that springs full formed from a design intelligence and more an order that emerges in the moment of interaction.  This is the wisdom of objects entering new, unexpected and "just barely" interactions.  This is the dynamic version of what Weinberger so winningly, brilliantly called "small pieces loosely joined."

Goldberg_2 So what’s my evidence?

There’s the wonderful Honda ad that sprang from the planning work of Russell Davies.  (In a sense we could argue that Russell’s Interesting 2007 was a network version of the Rube Goldberg cartoon, a place where unexpected, accidental contacts could and would be made.)

And yesterday, we got notice of an ad called Tipping Point for Guinness by Nicolai Fuglsig.  It is glorious.  Make that sublime.  See it here

Hail to Rube, visionary and man for our times.   


Weinberger, David.  2002.  Small Pieces Loosely Joined.  New York: Basic Books.

See the Honda version of a Rube Goldberg Machine here.

For more on Ruben Garret L. Goldberg, see the Wikipedia entry here.


to the Very Short List for notice of the Guinness ad, here

5 thoughts on “Changing heroes in the middle of the stream: Raymond Loewy to Rube Goldberg

  1. srp

    I think you’re reading the Honda ad backwards. They’re making fun of the Rube Goldberg idea–“Isn’t it nice when things just…work?” In any case, I wouldn’t draw broader trend inferences from a couple of ads; it’s pretty hard to see Apple or Nintendo or other companies with successful designs doing it the RG way. iPods are as Loewyesqu as Apple can make ’em.

  2. William

    From the sublime to the homemade – getting there is interaction. Grant’s stringing of “episodic, accidental, diverse” together is in someway powerful to me. I have been thinking about it for days. Somehow these words together challenge the first-person, third-person conjuring of experience. They are like David Weinberger’s “small pieces loosely joined” image of the nowhere/somewhere of the web. They have some quality of betweeness, and Weinberger’s space/non-space construct of the web reminds me of the Japanese term machi·ai.

    Machi·ai is a fairly ordinary reality in Japanese life – it is a waiting place, like a bus shelter. But the word forms more. It describes the Japanese intention of waiting, connecting and meeting. In architecture it is space that is between use: before it was a sleeping place; later it may be an eating place. It can also be a place of movement between – like the waiting for the bus, or a spacial moment the divides experience.

    The characters are derived from an architectural component of the Japanese tea house. In the machi·ai of the tea house, this outside/inside space, provides a sheltered view of the garden. It is here one pauses to reflect and prepares to participate in the offering of tea. This austere physical and psychological simplicity of the machi·ai is where mind, body and spirit are to be emptied in preparation for the tea ceremony.

    Beyond the ritual reality of the word, machi·ai works beautifully to describe betweeness or the space between. Goldberg, Honda and Guinness all act (at least for me) as betweeness. The ‘experience in’ and ‘experience of’ are invoked simultaneously.

    The web may well be spaces between places – maybe it is the waiting place between insight, maybe it just is the flash-cards of connection? In just the writing of these few sentences I have been to the web and back to here again and again. Weinberger says “The Web has blown documents apart…. What once was literally a tightly bound entity has been ripped into pieces and thrown into the air.” I think those pieces create the ability to move through different conditions in thinking and experiencing to the making of connection.

    Interaction is the phenomena of Grant’s “episodic, accidental, diverse” and the Goldburgess selling of Honda and Guinness. Messages move within motive and outside – there’s and ours.

    For a homegrown version of Goldberg see:

    William Moore

  3. William

    Just a small correction from my post above. The second last sentence should read:

    Barely interacting is the phenomena of Grant’s “episodic, accidental, diverse” and the Goldburgess selling of Honda and Guinness. Messages move within motive and outside – there’s and ours.

    Small change – large meaning.

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