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Monday, June 23, 2008

Practical Post 2: Destroy to Gain

In our zeal to break the mold, to come up with something unusual and new, we can often get so excited, so worked up, that we end up doing something rash, wasteful, or inefficient.

I almost committed such a mistake today when coming up with an improvement on my Braille shirt. One shortcoming of the first incarnation was that, although the shirt had Braille characters on it, it could not be read as Braille, since there were only visual markings, no tactile ones! My first (admittedly very reasonable) thoughts were to either use fabric paint or to adhere some objects to the shirt to provide the characteristic raised bumps.

Let’s step back and look at the math here, since this is something a bit more permanent than the washable sharpie. Say I decided to apply Duke blue fabric paint to a plain black tee shirt.

Losses: 1 plain black tee shirt
Gains: 1 black and blue Braille shirt
Total: No net change in number of shirts

Then I came up with a different approach. What if, instead of creating raised bumps, I created tactile contrast by cutting holes in the shirt, revealing the Braille characters by recession? Certainly, this would be just as easy to read visually (if the circles are large enough), and for such a short message, just as easy to read by touch (I’d imagine that for a large piece of text, it would be difficult to read “inverted” Braille).

Then, I could wear the shirt with holes over any other color (black would defeat the purpose) to create the Braille effect in a number of ways. Suppose I own N different colors of tee shirt (besides the black base). Let’s look at the math now:

Losses: 1 plain black tee shirt
Gains: N different colors of Braille shirt
Total: N-1 new shirts (technically I’m wearing two shirts)

This looks a lot more effective to me. Don’t forget to step back and think about the process you use to achieve fashion goals. There are often multiple ways to get the same (or similar) results, and they’re not always equal.

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