Where is the line between art and technology? Design is how we respond to a need. Part of that response is functional, technically oriented, part of that response is aesthetic and subjective. Great design comes from extraordinary solutions that embody the deep knowledge and understanding combined with great aesthetic aspects that make the solution appealing to the user.
Sometimes that understanding comes from years of experience. That experience and expertise is crucial to creating quality design. Often in today’s culture the qualities of long term experience and expert opinion are omitted or unavailable. As major new technologies emerge, it takes time for broad experience to accumulate and produce the maximum benefit of the technology.
Anybody remember the brick phone?
Of course, there have been many improvements in network performance and microelectronics packaging, but those improvements are all driven by improving the cellphone experience. The improvements over time are impressive, we are now carrying portable multi-media computers that can support all major communications services. And most of those phones (computers) are $100 or less.
This is generally the legacy of the electronics industry. Extremely high performance with a pace of improvements that is breathtaking.
The “learning curve” that enhances our experience of recent innovations like the cellphone is also present in all our other modern systems. Only some of them aren’t so modern. Water treatment and delivery is hundreds of years old technology that has been modernized to the extent of using electric motor pumps and modern control technology to facilitate things, but is largely the same as it has always been. The electric utility was invented by Thomas Edison for the purpose of delivering dc power to small regions in the early day of the electric light.
In some circumstances the “learning curve” can also represent institutional knowledge and bureaucracy that prevents progress from taking place. The amount of time necessary to demonstrate new technology in a given field, time to conduct feasibility studies, environmental impact studies, massive costs and effort are expended with no guarantee of return. This kind of risk can only be borne by large companies with sufficient cash flow to support the investment. It is certainly not the domain of small entrepreneurial startups.
So things like crude oil from Rocky Mountain shale will not produce the 10,000 good jobs that were planned by Shell Oil because after spending all the required time and money, Ken Salazar denied their permit to build a plant. Even though the all the studies all concluded that the project would be successful.
Is it progress, or what?