So, What Is The Mother Of All Inventions After All?

Usually, I try to write my blog posts related to innovation and design in a positive way. But today it will be different. It will not be negative as opposed to tradition I try to stick to, but it will be more of a warning, call for cautious approach to what we create and offer to consumers. Apparently, innovative thinking may have dark sides and good intentions may have expensive price tag for users of products thast we design, speaking both literally and figuratively. Today I do not offer cheerful tone and my applause to designers… Some of us go too far in our attempt to please consumers and helping them to nurture their darker and weaker sides.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”

– Plato

The author of this proverbial saying isn’t known. It is sometimes ascribed to Plato and it does appear in translations of Plato’s Republic. But there is another quote:

“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention . . . arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.”

– Agatha Christie

I came across both quotes years ago, when I just started inventing and having “great & unique” ideas which I was writing down and sketching in a thick notebook. Now this notebook is old, battered and almost out of free pages. Back then I though that there is a lot more to invention than just necessity and laziness. “What about inspiration? What about technical progress and betterment of the humanity?” – I thought. I was sure that most of the time I invent to make life of people (or at least mine) better. Now this is a key word – “BETTER”. What does it really mean? So, through many years of designing, inventing and patenting I though about these two pieces of wisdom. And the more I thought and looked at the world around, the more I was coming to conclusion, that most likely Agatha Christie nailed it down 99%.


I give 1% to Plato because we still have inventions that happen out of necessity, such as space technologies, other inventions aimed at achieving a better result from our actions, not necessarily easier, but better or faster or cheaper or all of the above. These are coming from necessity.

Now, I was digging Internet for more ideas of products for handicapped people, people with significant disabilities when I came across futuristic work stations. I realized that I must write a post on that topic. I saw these stations long before, laughed at how true Agatha Christie’s quote was about these particular elaborate marvels of design & engineering. But today I looked at it without laughing. I realized that this tendency is much bigger and a lot more dangerous than I thought before. Again, ingenious solutions for products intended to make life of handicapped people better are coming from 1% of Plato’s category. Work stations I will show are coming from 99% of Christie’s domain. There is such a narrow line dividing these two that we often fail to see it when we cross it.


Here is a frame from Disney’s excellent animated feature “Wallie”. Funny fat people, right? It would have been funny if it wasn’t too sad. Here is a reality, which most of us in the USA can witness almost every day:


Yes, there are many factors that contribute to the problem of poor health due to obesity – nutrition, chemistry in our food, the way it has been grown, stored, processed, prepared… All this aside, second most important affecting factor – mobility. Many of us do not move enough and do not make our muscles work enough during any given day to burn accumulated calories and energy, which then gets stored in our body as fat.


This brings us to the topic of design of our work places – places where many of us spend most of our time both at home and at work. Here many designers, following their intent to create more comfort for a user, fail miserably to see that thin line between necessity and laziness and offer dangerous portions of comfort.


I am asking this questions, pointing out problem, while creating this post, collecting photos from various corners of Internet, typing and re-typing my thoughts, while not quite reclining but comfortably sitting in a soft leather chair at my desk in front of three monitors with a cup of tea next to my right arm… And I have been in this chair for three hours, five or six more to go… talking about how little we move… I do not own one of these futuristic stations, but how far am I from them, really?



So, what would be your choice of work station? These expensive monsters above or one of these:




So, what is my message in this post? It is simple… I would call for designers to start seeing this thin but very important line between necessity and laziness, between healthy, productive comfort and “killer comfort”:


Gennadi Fedorov
Atus Design LLC

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