Meaningful Innovation

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From the 12-28-2012 New York Times: “SMOOTHER By reducing turbulence at the rear of tractor-trailers, the TrailerTail can raise mileage”

At Utile and in the studio classes at Northeastern University, we talk about “meaningful innovation” to distinguish between design solutions that have real and tangible benefits (whether experiential or measurable) versus design solutions that make a claim for their inventiveness purely based on their visual difference from conventional and typical solutions. The truck tail fin featured in a New York Times article today is the perfect example of a meaningful innovation because it had to solve multiple problems to achieve – in this case – a well-stated goal: to decrease the drag caused by a truck’s squared-off rear in improve fuel economy (to the tune of 6.6%). The extra wrinkle to the problem, which could have otherwise been solved with a Norman Bel Geddes-style rear bullet/tail fin (Motor Car No. 9 Without Tail Fin, 1933 below), was to continue to allow easy access to the “real” rear doors of the truck.

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The unexpected outcome is a surreal doubling of the doors – producing an effect not dissimilar to Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (1912).

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-Tim

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