Without Design There Are Only the Vicissitudes of Chance

In this post I want to highlight the importance of design.  As sustainable design guru William McDonough says, “Design is the signal of human intention.”  It’s a good thing to remember because when we intend something to happen, we are designing (not that it always comes right), and when we have no intention, we are rudderlessly thrown to the currents of chance, which can be lazy, pleasant brooks or brutally implacable rapids.

Take this simple example I noticed the other day on the rooftop.  While weeding, I use a plastic planting tray as a collection bin. The tray is 24″ wide and just happens to sit very comfortably and securely over the path space between beds (16″).

tray 2

An absolutely fortunate match between these two systems… surprising as there was no thought given to their compatibility.

Notice that I  used the word “happens”.  This was all happenstance,  dumb luck.  If you were visiting the garden and noticed me weeding, you might think: “That guy designed his garden well.  Look at how the tray and paths fit together,” but I would have to sheepishly admit, if I were pressed, that the whole thing was a happy accident.  Still, accident or not, this is a good system, so it’s something to hold on to for the next garden, when I will be proudly able to say,  “Why,yes, I did plan that all out that way!”  When benevolent chance blesses us with insight not our own, we should at least have the smarts to appropriate the wisdom given as our on the next go around, right?  Chance doesn’t seem to mind.

But just as chance giveth, chance taketh.  Inadequate thought to design (in other words, leaving it up to chance) can waste time, frustrate one’s intentions, and clog work’s flow.  Take that same tray that works so well with my beds and move it over to the rooftop’s compost tumblers, where those weeds-in-tray are destined to go, and it’s plain to see that in this case chance has mocked me.  My dear tray’s 24″ width is 7 inches wider than the mouth of the tumbler, meaning that with every transfer of materials, some spills down near the base of the tumbler, along with the curse or two that spills from my mouth at the sight of the mess.  And, yes, I have tried tipping the tray toward a high corner in the back and thus funneling all the contents into the tumbler….still makes a mess.


An absolute, unfortunate mismatch between these two systems…not surprising as there was no thought given to their compatibility.

Sadly, this is not likely to change any time soon.  Once we have committed time and money to a system, we may be in too deep to change, at least until frustration mounts to face-reddening levels.  I’m not anywhere near there yet, so I accept some spillage as the regular payoff for not thinking ahead, not designing enough, and thus, trusting to the fickle, and in this case crueler, vicissitudes of chance.


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