Building Frameworks

(Photo Credit: Apartment Therapy)

I read an article a few weeks ago about an interesting element of Shaker design. Inside Shaker homes, a simple wooden strip with evenly spaced pegs spans every wall. We’ve all seen this idea; we often hang our coats on this peg rail system, but the Shakers have built an interesting system upon this framework. Since this is a common element among all the homes, the Shakers could build objects to fit into it. Nothing needs to be nailed into the walls because the only requirement to participate in the framework was a two-inch diameter hole.

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a few weeks now ever since I read the article almost to the point of obsession. It reminded me of an article I had written a few months ago about the idea that designing for the web is like creating a platform that promotes conversation. As the designer, we start the conversation but the user gets to contribute and add to the platform we create. I started to wonder if this idea wasn’t just limited to web design and if these ideas about frameworks could be applied to anything.

“Art is never finished, only abondoned.” —Leonardo da Vinci

What if the designer doesn’t have the last word, but merely the first? What if the best designs were those that start a conversation but let other people come in and build upon it, continually adding, yet still fitting within it’s frame? What if the best designs are the designs that are never finished?

With these thoughts in my mind, I started seeing frameworks everywhere. What you look for, you will find. Twitter is a framework. Have you ever tried to explain Twitter to some who doesn’t know what it is? It’s hard. For some it’s a way to share what their doing but for others it’s a place to link to things they find online. Some people tell jokes and others just communicate with friends. Twitter allows it’s users to do whatever they want to with it. The only requirement is to stay within their framework: 140 characters.

And that’s why the iPad still excites me. “What do you do with it?” they ask me, “what’s its purpose?” It’s like Twitter, it’s hard to explain. It can be whatever you want it to be—whatever can fit on that 9.7 inch screen. It’s a framework that allows for infinite possibilities. I’m starting to think everything is built upon these frameworks. Maybe even religion is like a framework. Maybe religion is less a set of rules and regulations and more a framework to build your life around.

I think jazz music is the epitome of the framework. When Miles Davis was recording Kind of Blue, he introduced a new format called modal jazz which focused more on improvisation and discovery. The conductor or band leader didn’t control everything. They simply set the framework and invites other in to co-create.

Perhaps that is the central element to frameworks: co-creation. Frameworks are not the last word, but the first, providing a platform—jumping off point—for even more creativity. Frameworks are everywhere and in everything. Learning to see them and build from them lets us add to the conversation. And as designers, we can build and adjust our own frameworks, then invite others and co-create with us.


  1. jarrettfuller posted this