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…

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution objects gained a new type of anonymity because they were no longer handmade or unique due to identical repetition. The notion of mass production gives rise to images of objects subjected to the same impersonal and impartial process. However, the cut, the drilled hole, the stamped and folded metal, the printed label, go to produce objects all the same but all different, possessing imperfections and anomalies, however small, that becomes a key characteristic and brings a personalizing soul.

Deconstructing what we perceive about these anonymous objects begins with looking. Only through observing with both the eye and the mind we begin to highlight what is overlooked and we begin to notice even these smallest of details. We begin to consider the parts of an object, and how they join and support one another. We come to understand the material properties and qualities. This activity is not neutral as the knowledge becomes transferred to memory and becomes a useful resource for the imagination that will influence the way that we design as our senses become attuned to a sense of ‘rightness’ when making decisions related to material qualities, proportion, visual weight and the way that objects wear and give a desirable appearance through age.

Even when putting any issue of any nostalgic attachment we may have to these objects one side; we believe the character of these objects of no particular parentage is often more appealing than the character of more pedigree objects where the ego of the designer has replaced some of the usefulness and the ability to fit into everyday surroundings. The value of the anonymous object is to remind us that in the real world an object relies on its long term usefulness for survival.

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.

Sherry Turkle, editor of the book 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. Our love of the lowly object gives a perspective of looking at the edges of the subject of three dimensional design rather than towards the main defined areas of the subject. By looking beyond pure aesthetics and the brand name, we believe there is a need for objects that speak to us both rationally an emotionally, that both function but feel more human, offer us reassurance and give our lives more depth. A crucial balance between intimacy and technology in order that we can use design to give greater usefulness and emotional meaning to our surroundings.

Posted by Brimstones.

Images courtesy of Ian Roberts.


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