Andy Rooney will retire this Sunday at the age of 92. His 60 Minutes-ending rants will be no more. He won't be targeting the post office or modern art or music or Bill Gates ever again. Rooney's personality is as easy to caricature as Ross Perot's face and perhaps for that reason and his congenital crankism, it's easy to write him off. It is not for nothing that the villain of Ferris Bueller's Day Off is named Mr. Rooney. Our own Andrew Cohen has an eloquent defense of Rooney the Man, but I'd like to commend Rooney the Methodology. I mean this seriously: he is the beginning of a road that leads through Steve Jobs to new products. He is a fine observer of the failures of user interfaces of all types.
You see, failure is the key to invention. Listen to Henry Petroski, a Duke engineer who has devoted his life to understanding how products get better. "New things and and the ideas for things come from our dissatisfaction with what there is," Petroski opened his book Success Through Failure, "and from want of a satisfactory thing for doing what we want done."
In other words, it is the stuff about a thing that bothers us that causes us to improve it. We hack what we hate about what we love.