Poetic Design • Critical Writing

What is the value of poetic approaches to design?

Poetic design challenges users to discover, understand and contemplate the everyday objects with which they are so familiar. We tend to not consider the value of the object that we use every day. We do not think of the importance of these designed objects beyond their functional purpose, if we even think of them at all. Poetic approaches to design attempt to highlight important concepts unique to each individual object, whether it be the purpose of the object in question, its origins & history or even the relationship shared between user and object. This process of re-designing brings meaning, appreciation and beauty to everyday objects as evident in the designs, ‘Blank’ by Saboro Sakata, ‘Stone Mouse’ by Tom Gerhardt, ‘Straw Straw’ by Yuki Ida and ‘Anniversary Matches’ by Kaoru Mende.

Poetic approaches to design bring about new perceptions of the familiar. The refined and clearly thought out design decisions are what make thought provoking and poetic design, as similarities are drawn between familiar objects to make a profound statement. ‘Blank’ by Saboro Sakata uses a simple metaphor that makes a clear link between the uses the individual objects that have been combined, that is a USB and a bottle. The two object both serve a functional purpose of storing things, whether it be information, food, or other smaller objects. The small bottle design with a cork lid that encases the USB draws on the idea of a ‘message in a bottle’ where only important information is stored to be transferred, highlighting the modern simplicity of transferring information to others. Michael Erard describes the distinct purposes of metaphors in creating thought provoking insight in his article ‘See Through Words’. Metaphor in poetic designs “aren’t supposed to make someone remark: ‘That’s beautiful.’ They’re meant to make someone realise that they’ve only been looking at one side of a thing.” These metaphors making a familiar object unfamiliar, prompting new understandings.

There is an unavoidable relationship between designed objects and the user, however the familiarity of everyday object leaves no consideration of this relationship. The norms and expectations that we as users associate with certain objects are fulfilled when we go to use them. Poetic approaches to design have the ability to make these objects that we know unfamiliar by challenging these expectations. The ‘Stone Mouse’ designed by Tom Gerhardt subverts the normalities associated with a traditional mouse. The user expects the mouse to be a sleek modern piece of technology that relays the movement of the mouse onto a computer screen, and while this design performs its function, an unfamiliar sensation is experienced that makes the user stop and think. Elizabeth Shove makes an significant point in the text ‘Users, Technologies and Expectations Of Comfort, Cleanliness And Convenience’ where she states “User participation in design is unlikely to make much difference to the trajectory of sustainability unless such involvement challenges the purposes, norms and conventions around which contemporary concepts of need are built.” The poetic way in which Gerhardt has approached his design challenges expectations of user participation as the textured rawness of the stone and unique form forces the user to adjust their placement of their hand. The user’s need to consider the most comfortable grip incites a greater thought into the relationship between humans and nature as well as technology.

Some tend to draw a separation between art and design. Art is viewed as a creation of beauty with strong conceptual focuses that evokes new thoughts, experiences and perspectives. Design is considered to have a more practical element in its formation. Poetic design blurs the line between the distinctions the divide art and design by incorporating the concepts of both to regain a balance between efficiency and discovery. This is reiterated by Chris Gaul in ‘The Art of Everyday Things’ where design must “balance the need for efficiency and discovery” in “creating objects that are both useful and meaningful”. As previously mentioned, ‘Stone Mouse’ by Tom Gerhardt performs the functions of an ordinary mouse however the user experiences something new when using the mouse through the foreign sensation of the texture. There is a discovery of the beauty and rawness of nature through the grasp of stone form, linking the user directly to the object with a changed appreciation for both the nature and technology they take for granted. Similarly, in Yuki Ida’s ‘Straw Straw’, the straw performs same ordinary purpose of moving a liquid from a glass to the mouth however a new experience of taste is discovered. The efficiency of the straw is not impacted yet the taste of what is being drunk is altered through the redesign of the material from the familiar tasteless plastic to a natural raw straw. This experience provides a new-found appreciation for the object, as well as what is being drunk.

Poetic approaches to design spur a greater appreciation and mindfulness of the beauty objects through redesign. Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s ‘In the Praise of Shadows’ highlights the delicacy of everyday objects and how everything is made meaningful by the individual ‘shadows’, that is the often hidden or ‘overshadowed’ beauty of an object due to it’s primarily functional purpose. His writings highlight a recognition of the natural form, aging quality of everyday objects. Both Yuki Ida’s ‘Straw Straw’ and Kaoru Mende’s ‘Anniversary Matches’ are redesigned everyday objects that challenge the familiar by utilising associated martials but in their original raw state. These designs reflect the beauty of nature to underline how every object has come from another form. These designs touch upon the issue of the unfortunate disposable purpose of objects, such as straws and matches, as after a single use they serve no function. These objects have been redesigned with an emphasis on the natural material of the object places a beauty in the fact that these objects can return to the soil and potentially be reborn.

Due to the fast-paced nature of our world, we never really stop to consider how the object that we hold in our hands actually came about. The value of poetic approaches to design is that they can allow a consideration of the origins and history of an ordinary object. As stated by Kenya Hara in his book ‘Designing Design’ “Daily products exist within a stable of fully mature design that’s been cultivated through history”. The objects with which we are so comfortable and familiar have a rich history of redesign that have led to their optimum functionality, something that is taken for granted. Kaoru Menede explores this concept in his design ‘Anniversary Matches’. This set of matches have a twig base acting as the ‘stick’, referencing the origins of fire to make the user consider the convenience of their simple ability to light a match when in need of fire or light. “The design asks us to consider the relationship between humans and fire, which spans tens and thousands of years, letting our imagination run through time, over our ancestor’s life as it was intertwined with fire, and then place fire in the palm of our hand” (Kenya Hara). The combination of the match head with the twig base challenges the intended use for the matches. The natural wood alone can start a fire, yet it would be a more time consuming process, allowing the user to appreciate the matches as they know them today.

Poetic approaches to design merge conceptual thinking with sophisticated design. This way of designing is highly valuable as these redesigned objects have the power to provoke insightful thinking through meaningful design all while still maintaining their function.

Reference List

Erard, M. 2015, ‘See Through Design’, Aeon, 09 June, <https://aeon.co/essays/how-to-build-a-metaphor-to-change-people-s-minds>

Gaul, C. The Art of Everyday Things

Hara, K. 2007, Designing Design by Kenya Hara, Lars Müller Publishers, Zurich

Shove, E. 2010, ‘Users, Technologies and Expectations Of Comfort, Cleanliness And Convenience’, Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, vol. 16, no.2, pp.193–206

Tanizaki, J. 1977, In the Praise of Shadows, Leete’s Island Books


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