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.

At Brimstones and Treacle we attempt to look at the world of made objects in a different way, trying to find beauty in the mundane and finding fitness for purpose by keeping our eyes open. The realm of the professional designer is a relatively new phenomenon, as this business would have traditionally been carried out by engineers, industrialists and inventors. These individuals are worthy of our attention despite their efforts having been mostly unrecorded.  The fruit of their labour results in objects that through their banility are almost invisible, remaining largely unrecognised. And yet in our everyday lives we are surrounded by extraordinary examples of anonymous designs, but how many of us notice?



We think it is time to look afresh at these products and customise, misappropriate and ingeniously recycle materials into surprising new functions. Of course, in truth there is nothing new about this idea, as in any impoverished environment people will naturally take what is to hand and adapt its use to a new task. Finding a new use for an existing object seems an almost natural human trait. A past tutor of ours used to recount the stories from his work as a designer for Tradecraft and spoke enthusiastically about his epiphany as he witnessed Western European incandescent lightbulbs cemented into the walls of the huts in the most remote of Indian colonies. These spent lightbulbs being used as a free building material where the glass envelope of the bulb would allow light to be let in from outside, becoming a perfect example of beauty meeting new purpose. Such improvisation is obviously based on necessity but nevertheless it is highly symbolic of mans infinite creativity.



In a recent article entitled ‘When is a brick not a brick?’ by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian May 4, 2012, mentions a corporate team-building exercise known as 100 Uses For A Brick, where employees are presented with an ordinary brick, then asked to come up with 100 ways to contain their anger at being forced to participate in moronic team-building exercises when they could be working productively instead. The point is to encourage fresh thinking by looking beyond a brick’s conventional uses, thereby overcoming one of the biggest barriers to creativity: Functional Fixedness, a form of cognitive bias in which a person is unable to think of other, more creative uses for an object aside from its traditional use.

Burkeman offers an experiment that is a good example of this, which involves a candle and a box of drawing pins, with a set of instructions to fix the candle to the wall. Many try to pin the candle, or melt the wax. But few think of pinning the box onto the wall and place the candle inside. The box, is simply for holding the pins, Or is it?…  Whenever you devise a new use for an object, such as you are avoiding falling into the trap of functional fixedness.

Overcoming our preconceptions is how innovative designs come to fruition, so no wonder that a US academic’s claim to have developed an easy-to-follow method for defeating ‘functional fixedness’ has been met with some anticipation. Anthony McCaffrey explains “generic parts technique” or GPT, emerged from his inquiry, scrutinising more than 1,000 inventions, from which he concluded, through exploiting some unnoticed feature of an existing creation gives rise to genius new solutions. The core practice of GPT is simple: By trying to describe all the parts of an object in ways that don’t imply a function. There is something enormously disarming in its focus not on adding meaning to the world, but on subtracting it, describing the world as neutrally as possible, in order to scrape away encrusted ideas and expose what lies beneath. GPT optimistically evokes a “basic creativity”, present in everyone, if only we can get our thinking out of its way, and intriguingly, McCaffrey’s research suggests that people trained in GPT, are able to solve problems 67% more frequently than others.

Posted by Brimstones.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s