Who is the Real Designer?

Will The Real Designer Please Stand Up
Like many ideas, successful designs have many authors, as true of high technology innovation and more mundane products. Brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss who co-founded ConnectU predated both Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and the MySpace Trio of Tom Anderson, Chris DeWolfe and Brad Greenspan of MySpace. But who got the fame (and fortune)? Winners are often not the originators.

Sometimes, it’s not just a matter of who succeeded and who failed. Take the ice cream cone. Origination has been attributed to Charles and Frank Menches, ice cream vendors at the 1904 St. Louis, Missouri Louisiana Purchase Exposition, an early “World’s Fair,” when they ran out of the dishes they were using to serve their wares. As the story goes, with lines gathering, Frank turned to the vendor next to him, a Syrian pastry maker, Ernst Hamwi, who was selling Zalabia, a Middle-Eastern waffle-patterned pastry. He bought a stack of Zalabia, and Eureka, the ice cream cone was born.

The other ice cream vendors at that same fair, including Abe Doumar, founder of Doumar’s Cones and BBQ in Norfolk, Virginia, Nick and Albert Kabbaz, David Avayou and Arnold Fornachou, who were also using the same method, at the same time, with the same story, have receded into the miasma of design history. And this doesn’t even take into account the cones served at Frascati, the Paris restaurant, documented in an 1807 engraving, the paper and metal cones used throughout Europe during the 1800’s and Agnes Marshall’s recipe for “Cornet with Cream” published in her 1888 Cookbook, Mrs. A. B. Marshall’s Cookery Book.

The Power of the Pen
So, how did Frank (and Charles) become the “originators?” The legend was popularized 24 years later, in the 1928 Ice Cream Trade Journal, in an article that told the story. The writer: Frank Menches, who, by then had formed the Cornucopia Waffle Company (later the Missouri Cone Company), selling millions of cones a year. Interestingly, the article appeared in the same year that Frederick Bruckman, a competitor from Portland, Oregon, sold his company to Nabisco. Call it irony. Or competitive positioning.

There is no doubt there is truth all the stories. But, in consideration of the number of instances of ’simultaneous invention,’ it’s also clear that the title of ‘originator’ can often go to the man who writes the story.