To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure

By Henry Petroski

When planes crash, bridges collapse, and automobile gas tanks explode, we are quick to blame poor design. But Henry Petroski says we must look beyond design for causes and corrections. Known for his masterly explanations of engineering successes and failures, Petroski here takes his analysis a step further, to consider the larger context in which accidents occur.

In "To Forgive Design" he surveys some of the most infamous failures of our time, from the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse and the toppling of a massive Shanghai apartment building in 2009 to Boston's prolonged Big Dig and the 2010 Gulf oil spill. These avoidable disasters reveal the interdependency of people and machines within systems whose complex behavior was undreamt of by their designers, until it was too late. Petroski shows that even the simplest technology is embedded in cultural and socioeconomic constraints, complications, and contradictions.

Failure to imagine the possibility of failure is the most profound mistake engineers can make. Software developers realized this early on and looked outside their young field, to structural engineering, as they sought a historical perspective to help them identify their own potential mistakes. By explaining the interconnectedness of technology and culture and the dangers that can emerge from complexity, Petroski demonstrates that we would all do well to follow their lead.


NEWS & OPINION: To Forgive Design

Posted February 28, 2012, 8:16 PM with category of Management & Workplace Culture
As consumers, we love products that look nice and are easy to use. As humans, we enjoy created environments that enhance our quality of life while offering an interesting visualization to the natural world. But sometimes, our phones don't work properly, or our cars break down. Read more


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About the Hardcover

Publisher Belknap Press
Publish date 03/30/2012
Pages 432
ISBN-13 9780674065840
ISBN-10 0674065840
Language English