Of making pots

February 17, 2009

There’s a quote from one of the readings in my design classes that’s been haunting me for a long time, and in a good way. Originally I read this in Bill Buxton’s “Sketching User Experiences”, but apparently the original source is Bayles & Orland, p 29.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Put more simply: you don’t get better at making pots by researching making pots, or thinking about making pots. You get better at making pots, by making pots. And pots here are, of course, only a placeholder for… just about anything.