johnmaeda

Hosted By:

John Maeda

President, Rhode Island School of Design

Jul 26

2010

Art thinking makes the imagination come alive and produces vibrant, emotional ideas rooted in physical making.

If you had to choose between a pencil, a knife, or a hammer as the only tool you could ever own, which would you choose and why?


chikezieejiasi

Chikezie Ejiasi

UI Designer

Chikezie gave the final word

Personally, I would choose a pencil, especially in the context of being a Web Designer.

The pencil is the only ‘tool’ that I can use to quickly & efficiently illustrate my conceptual ideas, and it is the only tool where I can take a concept to the next level without having to waste resources (time).

However, there are times where spontaneity with a blade or a hammer do prevail. Let’s say in my case, the Knife = Photoshop, and the Hammer = Textmate. There have been times where spontaneous and non-conceptualized works have come to fruition. The work wasn’t as refined as if I planned it out, but it was still a successful encounter.

Monday, July 26 at 1:53pm

nicolamarradescisciolo

Nick Marra de Scisciolo

designer, Jlag, London

Certainly a Knife. I can use my fingers to draw on the sand the same way Pitagora used to do, I can even use a little chunk of charcoal on a drawing paper. I can use any hard and heavy object as hammer. The knife instead is a more complex and versatile tool and since it first appearance (about 2.5 million years ago) , knife has always played a key role in the evolution and history of humans. Moreover I love cooking and you can’t cook without a good knife!

Monday, July 26 at 10:10am

    I agree.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:32pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The need to eat seems to outweigh the need to build or draw.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:54pm

A hammer is dependable. It will not expire like the lead in the pencil or dull like the knife. A hammer can smash and break things apart. I hope to find a way to chip away at problems rather than drive with force. I am left with a knife that I must hone to keep it strong.

Monday, July 26 at 12:39pm

    I’ve had hammers that fell apart on me.. poorly made. A knife easily cared for can last a long time.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:33pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The knife does break down and wear. The pencil is also finite.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:55pm

lucyking

Lucy King

Assistant Director of Admissions, RISD

Can you use the tool to make tools? If yes, then I would choose the hammer and forge everything else I needed.

Monday, July 26 at 1:03pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The hammer is a meta-tool. It can make other things.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:55pm

angelariechers2

Angela Riechers

writer and graphic designer

Though a hammer is totally lacking in subtlety, it is very satisfying in its blunt noisy usefulness. So I might go with it based on this as well as its durability: never needs sharpening like the knife or pencil, and won’t eventually disappear like the pencil.

Monday, July 26 at 1:14pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Exactly.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:55pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    My thoughts exactly (above).

    Monday, July 26 at 1:56pm

1. It depends on the definition of ‘tool’.

2. You could potentially make other tools with a knife, so this is the classic ‘I wish I had three more wishes’ situation.

If we rephrase that to ‘which of these three tools do you think is more useful’, then I would go with the knife because a pencil has a shorter lifespan and the hammer is too limited in application. The knife is self-sufficient (you don’t need other implements like paper to make it work) and versatile.

Monday, July 26 at 1:18pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Your #2 tool above would be a useful one.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:57pm

Knife. Self-defense is primary.

You can create a writing utensil with a knife, or even scratch out writing with it directly. You can use a knife to “hammer” nails or pegs. A knife doubles as screwdriver, prying tool, even musical instrument.

Monday, July 26 at 1:21pm

    now THERE is an idea- a musical knife or hammer radio or music player.. would make working more interesting…

    Monday, July 26 at 1:41pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The need for security. A hammer could also offer such security but it’s different.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:56pm

    chikezieejiasi

    Chikezie Ejiasi

    UI Designer

    Words can cut & scar us just as effectively as a knife can.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:59pm

    chikezieejiasi

    Chikezie Ejiasi

    UI Designer

    (cont.) The pencil, is the tool of non-spoken words.

    Monday, July 26 at 2:00pm

Definitely a pencil. With the pencil (and some paper, hopefully), I have the tip of the world in my hands. Even if nothing can become a reality, I can put everything in my mind down on something lasting.

Monday, July 26 at 1:24pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The pencil is a dreamer’s tool.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:57pm

Side note: If you chose the pencil and knowing that you’ll eventually run out of lead, how would you use it?

Monday, July 26 at 1:25pm

We set our tables all over the world with a Knife, fork and spoon, not a hammer fork and spoon for a reason.
( although that would be an interesting meal to serve- I digress. Hmmmm what would you serve with hammers only??coconuts?)
It is an essential tool that we use daily.
I live in the country and as much as I LOVE my hammer-
I would have to choose a knife.
A good knife is an essential tool-
Go to any feed store, or hardware store- ask them about sales of hammers vs. knifes and see what they say.
A knife would be helpful to fashion wood to make a stone hammer with too ;)

Monday, July 26 at 1:28pm

    Also, if there is one thing that Katrina taught me- paper doesn’t last as much as other things.. so the pencil is out. I’d carve it in wood or bake it in clay instead. Clay last a long time.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:31pm

    A good emergency , first aid or evacuation kit always has a knife or scissors also – not a hammer or pencil.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:35pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    “table settings” -> wonder what Martha Stewart would choose.

    Monday, July 26 at 1:58pm

    That would be the perfect table setting for serving lobsters…

    Monday, July 26 at 5:13pm

henrykrauzyk

Henry Krauzyk

Creative Director

Give me a knife and a little desperation and I will have anything else I want in short order.

Monday, July 26 at 1:42pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    A knife is a strong verb-like noun.

    Monday, July 26 at 10:12pm

mikeskon

Mike Skon

Web Designer

Given that the hammer is the only tool still useful for its primary objective even when its dull, it’s no competition. Hammer for the win. Especially if it is a claw hammer. The claw end is almost a knife.
For those who offer the idea of making the other tools out of a knife, the question says if you could only own one. So, even if you made the other tools out of a knife, you would never be able to own the new tools. Renting tools is a complete different loophole.

Monday, July 26 at 1:50pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Claw-hammer = knife + hammer. Like Fork+spoon = spork. Rental is interesting angle. Frees us from idea of ownership.

    Monday, July 26 at 10:13pm

chikezieejiasi

Chikezie Ejiasi

UI Designer

Chikezie gave the Final Word

Personally, I would choose a pencil, especially in the context of being a Web Designer.

The pencil is the only ‘tool’ that I can use to quickly & efficiently illustrate my conceptual ideas, and it is the only tool where I can take a concept to the next level without having to waste resources (time).

However, there are times where spontaneity with a blade or a hammer do prevail. Let’s say in my case, the Knife = Photoshop, and the Hammer = Textmate. There have been times where spontaneous and non-conceptualized works have come to fruition. The work wasn’t as refined as if I planned it out, but it was still a successful encounter.

Monday, July 26 at 1:53pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Pencil = ideation

    Monday, July 26 at 10:13pm

My first impulse was to say pencil, because I cannot live without drawing. But as I realized that I would want to shape the point, and that the pencil was finite, I would want a knife, and – perhaps – a flint, so that I could make pencils. With the pencils I would allow myself to imagine and share thoughts for shaping other tools.

Monday, July 26 at 2:19pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Knife is needed to sharpen pencil. Dependency.

    Monday, July 26 at 10:13pm

    Interdependencies, ecologies. The question asks us to choose an element that is incomplete without the rest of the system.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 11:14am

    You can also sharpen a knife with a hammer.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 11:29am

I originally thought a knife would be the best option. But after much consideration, I would choose the hammer. You can make sharp objects by creatively breaking items with a hammer. Then you could use the sharp object to create a writing utensil or just use the sharp object as a writing utensil.

Monday, July 26 at 2:29pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Breaking things -> Makes new things.

    Monday, July 26 at 10:14pm

A few assumptions – that being able to have only one of the three stated tools does not mean you can have only one of them, i.e. you can have as many pencils as necessary for a lifetime of pencil-type behaviour. Further, you can have no other tools, not just none of the other three, other than the one you choose. In this instance, the pencil would seem the most logical. You can, and people did, fashion versions of knives and hammers (really any hand-sized rock), but a pencil is a complicated device that you cannot easily fashion without other tools. You can hammer pretty well with a heavy object, and cut pretty well with a sharpened stone or shell, but writing anything of length with only your finger or a piece of coal would be frustrating. As someone who writes a lot, the pencil is the only choice.

Monday, July 26 at 2:38pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    A pencil can be used to draw a hammer and/or knife, as you point out.

    Monday, July 26 at 10:14pm

I would choose a knife. I think the knife could be used to create devices that would serve the functions of the other two objects.

Monday, July 26 at 2:55pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Gave me pause. What does it mean to “serve the functions”? A knife can be used like hammer (with it’s handle), and a knife can be used to carve images. Is this what you mean?

    Monday, July 26 at 10:16pm

johnmamus

John Mamus

Chief Creative Officer, MAMUS

I can forge a knife out of soft rock or make a very lethal caveman cutting tool out shale. I can craft a writing implement out of charcoal much like Nick mentiond.

But first, we need to figure out how to make a fire to make this really meaningful. I suppose sparks could be made with a hammer – igniting something volatile like the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, July 26 at 3:09pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    A rock is a good tool. Indeed knife, hammer, or pencil don’t immediately add up to fire. But I’m sure someone out there could figure out how to do it …

    Monday, July 26 at 10:17pm

    maxcohen

    Max Fowler Cohen

    Executive Director, Parley Creative Group

    We could also use the knife to aid us in cutting up sticks and kindling with which to start a fire and cook food. Perhaps the knife is the superlative implement when viewed from this angle, for it can vastly improve our ability as hunters,in addition to simplifying the production of kindling material and firesticks.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 10:46pm

alwynvelasquez

Alwyn Velasquez

Designer/Instructor and Techno Geek

I would choose the knife as a multi-use tool for cutting , carving and slicing. With it I could craft my own pencils and with its handle I could use it to hammer (albeit slightly) and I could create art in wood and leather.

Monday, July 26 at 3:20pm

priscillahazlewood

Silla Hazlewood

Designer

Depends on the world I’m living in. If I’m here right now on planet earth, it would be a knife b/c of its usefulness/versatility in creating other items that aid in survival. If I’m in an drone/ant-like world it would be a hammer b/c all that would be required is one stroke. And finally if I’m in my world it would be a pencil b/c it’s a world where physical survival isn’t an issue and the pencil would be instrumental in creating all that I would need.

Monday, July 26 at 3:54pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Frame of reference. Earth, or other. Context is everything.

    Monday, July 26 at 10:22pm

Knife. With it I could make any other tool I needed.

Monday, July 26 at 3:56pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Alwyn (above) and you are in tune.

    Monday, July 26 at 10:20pm

maxcohen

Max Fowler Cohen

Executive Director, Parley Creative Group

John,

In a world in which an individual could only own one tool, tools must be costly, and resources must be scarce. I can imagine that ownership of said tool might come at great personal cost. There is the monetary cost of owning the tool, and then there is the existential cost of investing my time and person in my work in order to get the money to own the tool. This would effectively marry me to a single trade or craft, which would be highly dependent upon a single possession that could easily be taken from me, or become broken or lost. I would be committed to being a master of my tool, and my tool would be my master, too. In the single-tool ownership world of this thought experiment, I would elect to own no tool at all. My rationale for eschewing tool ownership is that, with everyone else around me choosing tools in order to follow one or another survival stratagem, I, by delimiting myself cognitively, and by not moving with the herd, will be better able to define myself and my reality. The pieces of myself, the time and effort and money that I would have invested in my work with a tool, I would reinvest in my mind and my career as an iconoclast thought leader. With so many people walking around with a pencil, a knife, or a hammer, my dedication to thought craftsmanship over physical craftsmanship would be a gamble: I would never be the same kind of artisan or builder as my peers, but in doing something different, it is likely that I would come upon a philosophy, a management technique, or a strategic behavior that would change the game for everyone around me. This would keep my skills in demand despite my position as a man with no pen, no hammer, and no knife.

Monday, July 26 at 6:44pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Choosing creating process over creating form. The new way of design.

    Monday, July 26 at 10:21pm

    maxcohen

    Max Fowler Cohen

    Executive Director, Parley Creative Group

    On the other hand, if we were dealing with more tools, there would already be a greater diversity of players, and I’d probably get less out of not knowing how to use my hands.

    Also, I wouldn’t say that not choosing one of those tools rules me out of creating form entirely. Some projects (I’m thinking buildings, especially, but also fashion design) require people to take on all kinds of different roles. Sure, having a pencil helps, but if I needed to borrow one for a moment, I would. The rest of the time, I could think of a whole bunch of other ways to be in the mix, incl

    Monday, July 26 at 11:33pm

    maxcohen

    Max Fowler Cohen

    Executive Director, Parley Creative Group

    -uding procuring building materials, doing project management, and the like. While I see how, in the end, these things probably require a pencil (or a keyboard) and are still more processes than physically creative acts, I do think there’s room for people to take niche roles like these on large-scale team projects, and for these roles to be as impactful as using a hammer.

    On the other hand, I am very disappointed that we don’t receive serious education on how to make things in school these days. It makes me sad that construction and auto repair tend to be seen as lower-class professions and are mainly only taught in tech schools, at least where I’m from. It would be cool to encourage young people to want to become artisans and to take their crafts seriously. I think we’d be seeing much less of an economic crisis these days if that were the case, but unfortunately, a large part of our economic world is a simulacrum.

    So, while in the limited world of the thought experiment as interpreted by me, I’d pick nothing at all, in this world, I’m pretty happy when I’ve got a pencil on me.

    Monday, July 26 at 11:41pm

mattkump

Matt Kump

Designer

You could illustrate ideas through carving, and build through cleverly sculpted connections. For that reason I think the knife would be the most useful in its diversity. The reason the hammer is seen as ‘the building tool’ is because its primitive form was the first tool discovered, and thus the most commonly used.

Monday, July 26 at 6:51pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Hammer = first tool discovered? This link was interesting. “The chopper” seems like something that could make a comeback. http://anthro.palomar.edu/homo/homo_4.htm

    Monday, July 26 at 10:23pm

    mattkump

    Matt Kump

    Designer

    That is interesting. I suppose when I say first tool discovered, I should say that I mean by the one that used it, not as in “the first tool discovered by modern man to have been used by early humans”. The chopper was made with another stone (hammer), thus the hammer came first. Although that chopper acts as both knife and hammer, so perhaps it’s superior?

    Monday, July 26 at 11:03pm

ameliablack

Amelia Black

Design Researcher

I am attracted to the temporal nature of the pencil. The fact it can break and be consumed, only serves to make the work it produces more valuable. The fathomless potential in the hammer, and even more so, in the knife come with inherent responsibilities: to cook, build, protect, to maintain resource equilibrium, to think beyond your immediate actions for the greater good of everyone without access to these tools.

I would choose the pencil, it (in relation to the others) is a contemporary tool, a method of communication that is scaled to the ability of the individual. It is a symbol for how we as a culture think, and unlike the hammer or knife it was designed with a means to erase what it makes.

And while the food argument for the other tools is strong, as an art student I did a lot of cooking with a wooden pencil (chemical intake aside), and in pairs make a decent eating/feeding utensil.

Tuesday, July 27 at 9:24am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The pencil is more fragile and finite. The hammer seems to live indefinitely. The knife is something renewable (you can sharpen it many times).

    The idea of the pencil being a newer implement is interesting. Depends upon how you view a pencil versus a general writing instrument. Reminds me of when I visited Paul Rand at his studio when he was finishing his last book:

    http://books.youworkforthem.com/book/P0146/Paul-Rand-From-Lascaux-to-Brooklyn

    Made me think of Lascaux … a different temporal reference than the Internet.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:01pm

    maxcohen

    Max Fowler Cohen

    Executive Director, Parley Creative Group

    Amelia,
    I like the description of the pencil as a contemporary tool. Not only is it ‘newer’, as John says, but its uses are also second-order uses; knives and hammers are more limited in this way. A knife, a hammer, or a pencil can all make physical things, but the pencil is so connected to the history and culture of our ability to draft thought that without its representational gifts of writing and drawing ability, we lose a lot of what makes humans distinct. If there are already houses and a steady source of food in the world, then the pencil offers perhaps the most versatility. Remove these things, however, and we regress to a different age, one in which humanity- and thus the pencil’s range of functionality- are rather limited.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 10:40pm

Paddy Harrington

Paddy Harrington

Creative Director, Bruce Mau Design, Toronto

What I love about this question is the way in which it begins to shape our understanding of the people who surround us. Everyone who responds here is intrigued by this question. But there are many people who’d never arrive at this page at all because it’s simply outside their scope of interests. And many who might land on this page would find the question irritating (Who cares?!). But that’s what I love about designers: Any question matters. It’s about inherent curiosity and a desire to understand and even improve.

Yet we maintain a need to play by the rules.

I’m tempted to say ‘none’, or some combination of ‘all’, or to pick on words like ‘own’. But that would be breaking the rules. And it seems that the most satisfying answer would be one that plays by the rules while combining the parameters in a unique and interesting way.

It’s a deep desire of every designer to come up with the big unique clear and compelling answer (as if there is only one)!

Anyhow, I want to say ‘knife’, as long as the words ‘swiss’ and ‘army’ are in front of it, but I won’t.

Nonetheless, I’ll answer ‘knife’. Straight up. I’m far too practical to say ‘pencil’, though I love the idea of a tool for the invention of any idea. A hammer is a robust tool, and surprisingly versatile. But a knife is primordial. It’s inherently versatile. For some reason, the question evokes, for me, a context where one is vying for survival, and a knife seems most indispensable. You can kill dinner, build shelter, and carve thoughts into the sides of trees with it. If I could only own one tool, it would be a knife.

Also… I’d be very interested to know if Mr. Maeda would alter the question in any way, given the responses so far?

Tuesday, July 27 at 9:27am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    I didn’t know what to expect actually and I haven’t felt the desire to modify the question. Now that I think about it, my inspiration was likely the “rock, paper, scissors” game. That has its own set of limited rules that are extremely clear.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:02pm

eugeniorojas

Eugenio Rojas

Audio Engineer

I think the enviroment would good to be stablished here. If I have rocks and sand and water I would own none of them. If I had nothing to use, I would own none either. Because if I have anything surrounding me why would I want to own something?

Tuesday, July 27 at 9:34am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The where question –> the context.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:05pm

jimwegener

Jim Wegener

Designer & Writer

Without a pencil, the mind turns to mush. You may start to forget things: history, how to communicate, where you live, how to make things, morality etc. The part of the brain exercised by the hammer and knife are a bit more primitive. A knife or hammer user might start to employ these tools in evil deeds —stealing your neighbor’s food, clothing, or Wii. I guess everyone in this universe would have to use pencils only. That’s the law: no hammers and knives allowed! And as Amelia said, the pencil could double as a fine eating tool, if you don’t mind a bit of lead.

Tuesday, July 27 at 10:30am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    What the tool does to your mind instead of what it does to the tool it operates upon. Another dimension … thanks.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:05pm

My tool would be the pencil, because it moves quickly, can reverse direction, can represent many dimensions, and can see into the future.

Tuesday, July 27 at 10:58am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The idea that the mark of a pencil can be “undone” whereas the cut of a knife can’t. Nor the *bam* of a hammer.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:06pm

The purpose of a tool is to gain leverage. The amount of leverage that can be gained depends on the wielder–her skill and determination–and her environment. However, in the end, we have the make the most of the tool we are dealt.

Tuesday, July 27 at 11:17am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The question of *who* is using the tool.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:06pm

Interesting definition from Wikipedia:
“A tool is a device that can be used to produce or achieve something, but that is not consumed in the process.”

The pencil sacrifices itself in the process.
The way it works is by reconfiguring its particles into useful patterns.

In this sense, the pencil is a different type of tool than the hammer or knife.

Tuesday, July 27 at 11:40am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The pencil seems like such a noble tool in this light.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:06pm

    nice!

    Tuesday, July 27 at 8:33pm

    Noble. I like that.

    Wednesday, July 28 at 6:43am

jacobcooper

Jacob Cooper

Graphic Designer, Student at Rhode Island School of Design

Taking one object to create another is creation, and creation, in my opinion, implies ownership. But these responses seem to address ways of replacing one tool for another, but not actually living in their absence. I haven’t used a hammer in years and living without it would be easy. As a student and designer I use a pencil everyday, but only in the absence of a computer or other tool. (Art and Design can be tool-less practices — the voice to create harmony and the hands to create rhythm, or perhaps “natural” tools are excluded as well?)

But I haven’t lived without a knife. From opening packages to cutting up my entree, a knife is a daily tool. Living without one would make opening these packages a lot more exciting. I don’t think I could ever get sick of finger-foods. I’d love to go to a restaurant where the customers were required to rip their steak apart with there bare hands (who never liked a good mess by the way?).

I’ll take the pencil, so that I could live without the knife.

Tuesday, July 27 at 11:40am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Hmmm. What tool do you not use so often — another question. Hammer is used sparingly. If you eat out a lot, then you probably barely see a knife (at least not a butter knife).

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:07pm

paulsoulellis

Paul Soulellis

Artist, Creative Director

I can draw anything with the pencil, and tell a story. I can listen, and use the pencil to interpret. I can intuit, and use the pencil to explore. I can teach with it. I can draw other tools, and dream of a limitless world.

But it’s also the only tool of the three with a guaranteed limit on its life. The pencil’s power is conditional: its own disappearance is built into its use. As we use the pencil, we kill it.

So the pencil has its own terms. Use it blindly, and suffer when you realize that there’s only a bit left. Use it too carefully, trying to preserve the lead, and limit your potential.

The pencil’s contract on its life reminds us of our own death. A kind of poetic tension that for me transforms the pencil into a very humbling tool. A very human tool.

Tuesday, July 27 at 11:59am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Stories. Can a knife tell a story? Can a hammer tell a story? The pencil has a lot of subtlety to it. Like the hammer you can hammer hard/soft and with a pencil write dark/light.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:08pm

wesbaker

Wes Baker

Interface Developer

A hammer, realistically it serves as a not-so-subtle means for defense and theoretically hunting so survival would be taken care of. But I would pick the hammer no matter what because it seems the most attuned to hardwork. All three tools can create things, but the hammer represents hard work and a solid finished product—two things I strive for.

Tuesday, July 27 at 1:50pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The hammer would probably last many more years than the knife or pencil if buried in the ground perhaps.

    Tuesday, July 27 at 2:09pm

Pencil. I can use it to write a story, to draw s picture to illustrate what I’m trying to say in words, to open a shrink-wrapped package, to defend myself. In other words, I like tools like pencils that are versatile, tactile, reinforce my eye-brain-hand connections, and make me the human being I strive to be every day of my life, and rarely succeed: I hope to be smart and versatile and in touch with all my senses. We tend to forget how important our hands our to a nuanced understanding of a complex world. For example, as I type this, I’m touching plastic keys–that’s all. But what about feeling heat, cold, color, texture, living things–experiences that only our hands can give us. Picking a pencil can be a beginning in the great adventure of reconnecting to our starved senses. .

Tuesday, July 27 at 2:29pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    A writer would more naturally gravitate to a pencil. Depends upon who you are and what you do.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:16pm

I would choose a pencil. I could use the pencil to communicate with others with words and drawings. I can also use a pencil to poke a hole, put it on the end of a stick and use it as a weapon or use the eraser end to pound things. The pencil could also serve as a toy that I could twirl between my fingers. Lastly, I could snap the pencil in half and use the jagged edges to create a knife-like tool.

Tuesday, July 27 at 5:22pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The pencil = communication. The hammer and knife don’t have such a direct connotation.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:17pm

Imagining a world in which I would only be allowed one tool conjures up thoughts of extreme austerity, imprisonment, oppression. Under what circumstances would I be denied access to other tools? In most of the scenarios I can imagine, I would want a knife. Perhaps if only to liberate myself into a more tool-rich environment.

Tuesday, July 27 at 7:19pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    The knife can cut yourself free. But the pencil can help you imagine freedom.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:17pm

I would choose a pencil because it allows you to create and record as far as your imagination goes in the least amount of time and with the least amount of physical effort.

The only downside I could see here is if you only had one pencil, in which case it’s use would have a more limited lifespan; however, you could still build more buildings (visually/conceptually) with just one pencil that with a hammer or knife.

Tuesday, July 27 at 8:04pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    A pencil takes the least effort and pressure. True.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:18pm

John Lilly

John Lilly

CEO of Mozilla

Hammer for me. Can be creative; can also be destructive.

Tuesday, July 27 at 8:06pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    creative.destruction

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:18pm

genelu

Gene Lu

Almost a legit Interaction Designer

In a world where everything is already pre-cut and pre-fabbed, one of the few differentiators between me and the next guy are ideas, which is why I would choose the pencil. Plus, I don’t even remember the last time I used a hammer or a knife.

Tuesday, July 27 at 10:33pm

jeremyyuille

Jeremy Yuille

Senior Lecturer, RMIT University

I’m with the bootstrappers out there – you can hammer out a blade, to make a pencil (and some paper).

plus – if you can’t fix it with a hammer it must be broken :)

Tuesday, July 27 at 11:56pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Hammer = Fix

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:20pm

I would choose the hammer. It seems to be the most durable object of the three for raising food for myself. I could break up the ground, scratch out rows with the claw,and pound in stakes. I think it would be the most useful for measuring also, because of the difference in size of the handle vs. the breadth of the head, and the width of the head ( I usually use my shovel for this). I guess I would be condemned to eating all the food I raised without cutting it up, but since I can’t have pots, plates or a stove…..If I was more of a hunter than a farmer maybe I would choose the knife. The pencil I regret giving up; one of my favorite things in life is a nice sharp #2 with a good eraser.

Wednesday, July 28 at 12:12am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    You can break up the ground and grow food = vegetarian. The knife is more for non-vegetarians.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:21pm

What kind of hammer, there are about 40 different types.

Wednesday, July 28 at 12:23am

Do I want to hammer my world, cut it or draw and write on it? The pencil is the easiest of choices for me.

Wednesday, July 28 at 4:02am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    You can draw a picture of a hammer and a knife with a pencil.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:21pm

johnmartin

john martin

Learning Consultant

A hammer would be the most useful tool in a community. It’s also the most useful tool (of the three) for creating tools. With a hammer I can sculpt stone or forge a knife (to sharpen a pencil, to write a sonnet). In the “give a fish or teach to fish” question, the hammer is the closest to the teaching end.

Wednesday, July 28 at 10:43am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Hammer is a meta-tool.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:23pm

As all three tools are finite elements, one would have to choose the one that supports the mind and its thinking process the most.

I would choose the pencil as it promotes a thinking process of the mind to develop ideas and solutions to any problem; however complex it may be.

Wednesday, July 28 at 11:17am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    I would think that when you use a knife, however, you are particularly mindful (for fear of cutting yourself). It requires a different kind of discipline.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:24pm

gervaistompkin

Gervais Tompkin

Leader, Gensler Consulting

Expression, culture, ideas, pleasure. Sure you could use a hammer or a knife to contribute in these ways but the data from history would suggest that designers do better with pencils. For me, I’ll stick with a pencil.

Wednesday, July 28 at 2:08pm

In the instance of having to choose only one, I would have to “whittle” it down to my core being, and which tool best fits. I am pondering the decision of myself ultimately as a “persuader” or a “maker”.

A pencil is a persuasive tool, for communicating ideas to others.

A knife is an actual tool for a “maker”, however, it can also be quite persuasive.

Knife wins.

Wednesday, July 28 at 3:04pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Pencil = Persuasion (intellectual)
    Hammer = Persuasion (physical)
    Knife = Persuasion (physical too)

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:27pm

My first choice was the pencil because in my studies, I can’t do anything without it. I was thinking about a daily necessity’s tool. For me, the pencil was the most usefull, because I must express most of my ideas in drawing sketches or plans. That’s why the pencil is my favourite tool. It’s a vector of ideas, an “universal” tool to be understand by other people. I can also talk about sensibility. Holding a pencil is a strange sensation. I feel it like it is an extension of the body and mind. As if our thoughts were contained in the graphite mine waiting the moment where they will be put on the paper. A pencil is a mind tool. You must use it when your ideas aren’t very clear. It’s a way of relieving the mind of surplus ideas. Emerging ideas can be reworked with a pencil to obtain a significant result. You can’t directly create material things with that but the preliminary work can be done.

I’m not very handy with a knife but I recognize its utility. The knife is different of a pencil especially because you can create material things immediately. If the pencil symbolize the idea, the knife symbolize the manual work. Chronologically, during a project, the pencil is the first tool to be used, the knife being used to create the material object.

…But…you can also draw onto the floor with a pointed knife.

Flo F, french architecture student

Wednesday, July 28 at 3:47pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Indeed we associate “studying” with a pencil. A hammer and knife don’t immediately come to mind.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:28pm

gervaistompkin

Gervais Tompkin

Leader, Gensler Consulting

If people are independently choosing the pencil, the knife and the hammer…what should the combined only-one-tool society choose to do and why? Sorry John to respond to the question with the question…couldn’t resist!

Wednesday, July 28 at 4:06pm

    maxcohen

    Max Fowler Cohen

    Executive Director, Parley Creative Group

    Gervais,
    I think we can look to history to demonstrate that single-tool societies just don’t last; our humanity lies in our ability to think and do things differently from each other. I come from Maine, where the financial crash is just the latest in a string of economic troubles. Much of Maine’s economy used to be built largely around logging and paper mills, and entire cities were employed in single-function factories that went out of business in the late twentieth century, because somebody somewhere else was doing paper more cheaply. In a society full of people using all the same tool, the less-talented half can hardly compete, and is in a lot of trouble, and by turns, so is the society, because its citizens have neither complimentary skills that can be used in synergy for greater productiveness, nor alternatives should the skill/tool that serves as the primary driver of their world cease to be useful.

    The only-one-tool society should choose to get more tools. But, in all likelihood, what will happen is that everyone will choose the knife, because a society in which everyone is doing exactly the same thing is a society without dialogue and without functional community, and the moment everyone realizes this, they’ll pick the knife, so that they can take things by force, or defend themselves from the forceful intrusion of others who are equally fed up with the lack of options.

    Wednesday, July 28 at 5:14pm

josefabboud

Josef Abboud

Student

Assumptions:
1) it serves the purpose of this exercise to choose one of the three instead of questioning the choice.
2) I’d be working alongside others faced with the same tools.

Within those parameters: certainly the hammer. It magnifies force, it can be used delicately or with great force, from tapping to smashing, it’s scalable.
I also feel it’s inherently supportive, since it outlasts and/or legthens the use of the other two, those with hammers would hold cornerstone positions and provide elements of consistency to others; I imagine hammers would be handed down from one to another.
Hammers could also shape other hammers into sharper tools, like picks or axes.
Persistence is important for memory, and having a lasting tool can serve that. I imagine places and ritual to become important as well, hammers would likely end up in stories and histories, they could represent individuals, even as tombstones.

Wednesday, July 28 at 4:09pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    That’s a good idea — if you only have one tool, you can rely on someone else who has the other tool.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:28pm

Have you ever tried to record a recipe with a knife?
Have you made an attempt to write a fugue with a hammer – perhaps the one you used to tune that piano? The physical limitations of the primitive, albeit useful brethren pales in comparison to the multi-dimensional pencil. Knives and hammers record human progress in millenia- the pencil in seconds. The tool has a much finer calibration. There is little abstraction in the hammer and the blade. The utility spectrum of a simple piece of graphite is nearly limitless, and spans from the basest of uses (perforating cardboard, vacuum-wrapping or a jugular vein) to the most extra-ordinary. A tool entirely at ease in the hands of Einstein, Picasso, Philip Johnson, John Maeda, and me.

Wednesday, July 28 at 4:10pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    A strong case for the pencil.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:29pm

mylesgaythwaite

Myles Gaythwaite

art director

Regarding tools as power objects; beginning with the hammer and then evolving to the knife and pencil, we move further away from individual survival tools toward more communicative and social tools. A hammer is blunt and immediate and good for whacking things within arm’s reach.

A knife further increases one’s reach as the end of an effective missile and begins the social role of creating tools for others (carved spears ect.)

The pencil, while pitiful as an individual tool, can be used to wield enormous power within a social milieu (“pass this note around — meet at the watering hole at noon; bring rocks”.)

As a social being, I would have to go with the pencil.

Wednesday, July 28 at 11:55pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Social tools vs physical tools — powerful idea.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:29pm

The hammer destroys any pencil with ease. The knife puts up a good fight against the hammer, but the hammer eventually wins. If I had to select only one tool among three, then the tool that is the strongest wins. It’s a sort of survival of the fittest I suppose. Hammer über alles.

Thursday, July 29 at 9:17am

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Knife can fight, but the hammer can win. Nice.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:29pm

christaylor

Chris Taylor

Director of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech

Hands down it would be the hammer. As a piece of intelligence it is fundamental, beginning with stone in hand and moving to the weighted end of a longer lever arm. The hammer enables the forge and is enabled by it. It is a multivalent instrument capable of marking a surface, punching a hole, or driving moisture from fibrous plant material. This agility of purpose carries the day in creativity, utility, and grace. It also reminds me of Jeff Skoda-Smith, the person who taught me to weld, saying that “to understand the power of computers you have to start using them for things they weren’t designed for.” The hammer is a tool that creates other possibilities.

Thursday, July 29 at 12:53pm

    johnmaeda

    John Maeda

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    True. If there were no nails, a hammer would be truly free to be whatever it wanted to be.

    Thursday, July 29 at 4:30pm

adamgroffman

Adam Groffman

Graphic Designer

I would choose the pencil. Probably for simplicity’s sake. And it seems the most noble, most Romantic.

Thursday, July 29 at 4:28pm

It is crucial to this conversation that we honestly recognize and accept the terms of the question. That is; ‘we’ occupy a universe where ‘you’ (each individual) sufficiently and necessarily can ONLY OWN a pencil, a knife, or a hammer. There are no conditions in this proposition that disallows; trading,barter, or owning an infinite number of,or a lifetimes worth of, your chosen tool.

Given who I am at this point of my middle aged female life. I will choose (have chosen) the pencil. I have worked with the knife and the hammer. Now I choose to return to the second tool of my childhood (the first being the spoon), the tool that keeps me independent and content: the pencil that can illustrate a course of action for knife or hammer. Indeed there are elements of the rock,paper,scissors game here. I choose not to compete. Trade ya!

Thursday, July 29 at 5:39pm

Perhaps a need exists for a swiss-army hammer.

Thursday, July 29 at 6:30pm

juanlacape

juan lacape

designer

A knife on its sharp pointed side can be used as a sort of pencil.
A knife in its butt side can be used as a sort of hammer.

a pencil can never be a knife.
a hammer can never be a knife.

and thus you now know what i choose.

Thursday, July 29 at 11:43pm

mattkump

Matt Kump

Designer

The pencil would be the tool of someone trusting. Graphite can be erased too easily.

The hammer would be the tool of someone direct. The action of a hammer, whether used forcefully or not, produces an instant, satisfying reaction.

The knife would be the tool of someone thoughtful. The maintainability of a blade and its many uses would allow any thinker the freedom to create, express and dream.

I’ll stick with my knife.

Friday, July 30 at 2:25am

i would draw a nice toolbox and hang it on the wall, and learn to cook with my pencil.

Friday, July 30 at 4:09am

carenlitherland

Caren Litherland

graphic designer

For me, the pencil is the most constructive option. One could of course argue that it’s possible to construct things with hammers and knives, but the primary function of such tools is to make less whole. To cut. To dent. To smash.

The pencil, on the other hand, creates. It makes marks that weren’t there before. In that sense, it is a profoundly optimistic implement. Also, as an instrument of both writing and drawing, the pencil is the tool of visual literacy par excellence. As such, the pencil connects us to the world, to work, and to others in a way that the hammer and knife do not.

Friday, July 30 at 9:28am

danielsellers

Daniel Sellers

Web Worker

All of these tools are instruments for turning ones vision into reality. The pencil is a more subtle tool, allowing abstract concepts to be captured in ways that would be difficult with the hammer or knife. Each of them can create through addition or subtraction of material though the pencil is predominantly additive in nature.

So deep analysis of each tool aside I would choose a knife, because it is a tool that embodies both the ability to destroy and create. It can save or take a life. It can create beautiful art or be used to slash tires. Not that I condone the negative use of the tool. The knife is just the most versatile of the tools. It allows survival and creation in a way that none of the others do.

Friday, July 30 at 1:09pm

    maxcohen

    Max Fowler Cohen

    Executive Director, Parley Creative Group

    I say tools aren’t versatile; human minds are. Without tools we’d be stuck… Without the ability to invent new tools or reenvision how we use old ones, we’d be more stuck.

    Friday, July 30 at 7:43pm