Why are things the way they are?

Of designed objects we have always questioned;

Why are things the way they are – and, could they be different?

When designing we have always taken an interest in the particular characteristics of objects, centred around methods of manufacture and the ways that things are put together. As collectors of objects, we often value insubstantial things that come to acquire a certain mysterious provenance over time. The collections held in grand cultural establishments come to be celebrated in society as symbolic references and indicators of our culture, but we would argue that it is ephemera that truly indicates our collective lives and speak of our times. Our interest in celebrating things that may initially appear banal and mundane, lies in the power of these everyday objects and the importance of design in manipulating and changing our perceptions.

We have a particular interest for objects without an author, those anonymously conceived objects of both the distant and more recent past we appreciate for their powerful enigmatic appeal as a ‘thing’ and also how useful it is. Anonymous artefacts of the distant past are often ‘anonymous’ purely because the personality of the craftsperson was not commonly attached to the object, as the concept of their labour was not held in high esteem regardless of the craftsmanship of their work. The work of a wheelwright to make a wheel of exceptional quality was still just a wheel… Continue reading

Looking differently at the world of objects

In our own home we have taken the opportunity to handpick through a process of careful selection, a number of pieces of woodgrain teak effect furniture we believe are engaging for their pure functionality, their fitness for purpose and we do this in the certainty that we think that they will come back into fashion.  What is intriguing about this furniture that was so ubiquitous in the homes of the 1950/60’s is the way that they seem to have evolved rather than having been designed, perhaps this is a true example of ‘form follows function’ that was upheld by the modernists. This got us to thinking about the importance of celebrating what we have to hand but somehow have failed to notice, by taking these everyday object and shifting it in to a new context and purpose within the domestic environment. Continue reading



“A lot of young people are somehow put off struggle and difficulty. Boredom thresholds now because of the nature of entertainment, people are adrenalin addicted and I think that one of the big unspoken addictions in our society is adrenalin. We are addicted to drama, everything has to be exciting, black and white there’s no middle ground, we’re all being gradually pushed into this area where our attention span is that of a gnat. Difficulty, learning a skill that might take 10 years over 10,000 hours is something that frightens to death, when in fact when you attain that it is probably the happiest most joyful thing you can do”.

-Grayson Perry Thinking Allowed,  BBC Radio 4. April 2008

The Rosetta Vase, 2011. © Grayson Perry.

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Pleasingly Pointless

We find irresistible the drawings of eccentric machines by cartoonist and illustrator W.Heath Robinson, (1872 –1944), that have become part of common parlance for unnecessarily complex and implausible contraptions. We often use the phrase ‘Heath Robinson’ in relation to any of our temporary fixes using our ingenuity and whatever is to hand, – often string and tape, or unlikely cannibalisations. Continue reading

Ultimate Collapsible; RAPIDO

If you carry an umbrella, have Venetian blinds on your windows or have ever sat in a deck chair, you’ve experienced the category of objects that are Collapsibles. I am an avid collector of these collapsible objects and I celebrate their genius spacesaving designs, both past and present, that are foldable, expandable, retractable, inflatable, and stackable. The ingenuity of man-made collapsibles inspires creativity, and their brilliance lies in the application of a significant design principle used in our daily life; the economy of space and the economy of transportation. In my opinion the ultimate collapsible in this respect is the wonderful and delightful Rapido… Continue reading

Collecting Collapsibles

Sherry Turkle, editor of Evocative Objects,  is quoted as saying ‘We think with the objects we love, we love the objects we think with’ revealing the power that objects hold to become emotional and intellectual companions, that anchor memory and provoke new ideas. Collecting objects offers us the opportunity for liberation in the ways that we think about them and enables us to form our own narrative around their use and effect. The act of collecting itself allows us to see where objects end up in reality as opposed to the messages that we consume about them through our capitalist culture and it allows us to reveal what objects actually mean to people.

The bug of collecting becomes infectious and intriguing, with each object offering it’s own peculiar insight in aspects of contemporary culture. Popular among designers is the notion of collecting a singular typology of objects, such as Jasper Morrison and his anthropological study of Spoons. Collecting objects becomes a passion that is both reassuring and delightful and allowing narratives about them to be constructed through viewing, valuing and selecting. A particular interest of ours lies in collecting ‘collapsible’ objects, building a snapshot of the many ways that transforming objects can be determined. Experiencing this broad spectrum of everyday things within the context of the classification of ‘collapsibility’ gives a clear means to understand this sphere of objects and how they work, how they make us think and behave, giving certain perspective on how we interact with the world and how we understand the world. Continue reading

Thinking through Making

At Brimstones & Treacle, we take time to look at materials, processes and technologies to understand why and how they are harnessed in particular ways by designers, but more importantly to understand the values that we place on them, not only in their visual and tactile properties but also the cultural associations they hold. An icon of this approach is the theoretician Enzo Mari who came to design via the world of art as a fervent critic of Consumerism. As an ideological contributor to the debates surrounding design for the last fifty years he has become renowned for his mantra, “Good design for everybody at affordable prices’.

Central to Mari’s beliefs is that design, rather than simply being an expression of others values should develop its own ideology. Much of his work can be considered from this viewpoint, as a sort of critical design exercise where understanding is reached through experiment that can be best described as ‘Thinking through Making’. Continue reading