Once upon a time there was a stereotypical nuclear family: Dad's an engineer, Mom's a designer, and Timmy, is, well, Timmy.

For his third birthday, Timmy's parents decide to get him a bike to learn to ride. But of course, Timmy doesn't know how to ride a bike yet. Engineer Dad looks at the problem and says Timmy's going to fall off his bike if we don't do something about it. Luckily, we can:

Photograph of a child's bicycle with training wheels

But when the day came for the training wheels to come off, there was a lot of huffing and puffing and falling and bleeding and crying, overall a traumatic experience. Hurt and frustrated, Timmy is sworn off bikes, in his words, for ever and ever.

Designer Mom looks at the problem and says: What if Timmy keeps falling down because he isn't learning to balance, in turn because we're giving him too many things to learn at once? What if we take something away?

Photograph of a Like-a-Bike balance-training push bicycle

And they lived happily ever after.


The pushbike isn't a mode of transportation as much as it is a pedagogical tool. Made out of cheap materials (in theory at least, the one pictured is crazy expensive), the purpose is to focus Timmy on balancing first, then he can move up to pedalling on a real bike once he's mastered balancing and starts to yearn for some speed. (Pedalling is easier to master, anyway.)

I framed this as an engineering/design dichotomy because engineering is always about working with what we have. The effect is that the problem-solving focus alights on the capabilities of the technology, which can often lead to parochial solutions. The design approach is about focusing on a purpose and imagining what we need to make it happen, irrespective of our current inventory. When we have a strong purpose, it becomes abundantly clear what is important and what isn't. The result, as such, stands an even chance of using less technology, because solution turns out to be simpler.

And that is the time to call in the engineers.