The Importance of Poetic Design on the Mind

Poetic design allows for sensitivity and thoughtfulness within the design process. Where current design thinking sees everything becoming hyper functional and streamlined, the methodology of poetic design sees a more personal and meditative approach. These ideas of mindfulness and self-actualization, described by Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, are essential to our development and health, yet are continually overlooked. To say this is a new issue would be dismissive of the past, however as our society grows and moves in a faster pace than ever there is a heightened need for us to slow down and consider, not just move efficiently through our lives without stopping to think or contemplate.

Our society moves at such a fast pace, continually refreshing and replacing what we have now. Designers move to keep up with these desires, to give their customer a new and ‘improved’ model of what they already have. In this dance “people have no time to leisurely enjoy the actual benefits and treasures already available” (Hara, 2007). This innate need to have something new is resulting in “too many overdone designs” (Hara, 2007), ones that, although may have more features than we could have imagined, do not actually function in a way that will support our development on a greater scale or contribute to our mindfulness.

Stone Mouse, Tom Gerhardt; ring built with custom electronics, controlled by stone of choice. 2010

One designer that has broken through this precedent is Tom Gerhardt. His Stone Mouse questions the importance of complete functionality with its poetic sensitivity. The computer mouse as a product is sterile and envisions the fast pace of technology. The Stone Mouse deviates from this path and takes the user back to the nostalgia of a simpler time. More than just creating a product that conveys connotations of nature and the outside world through its exterior appearance, the mouse itself only comes with the ring beneath it. This forces the user to engage with their surrounding natural environment in order to make the mouse functional. This process slows the product down, and makes the user consider not only the object they are using but also the context in which they are using it in. The natural pattern of a rock is delicate and beautiful, and the texture beneath one’s hand would give a sensory experience so unusual in this space. Although the functionality of the mouse has been stunted, what the mouse has gained through the thoughtfulness of its design gives the mouse a new purpose; to engage with the user and reconnect them with an environment, or memory, which they hold dear.

Blank, Saboro Sakata; A tactile and playful interpretation of digital storage. 2011

The practice of poetic design forces the designer to think much deeper about their process. This does not necessarily mean reconceptualising our world completely and creating new products to suit, but rather re-designing current objects to allow for a deeper and more thoughtful contemplation of our world. “Redesigning is a means by which to correct and renew our feelings about the essence of design” (Hara, 2007). Blank, 2011 by Saboro Sakata is one such example of effective re-designing. Here the USB is realised in an alternative context that makes us consider its functionality in a new light. The design is built from a metaphor, highlighting the similarities between a USB and a bottle; they both hold things. This linking makes us see the USB in a different way, the comparison between it and a glass bottle reminds us to think of the fragility of the data that may be stored on the USB. That it, like a glass bottle, is something that must be cared for if we want it to protect what it holds. Although the cork and glass attachments to the USB make it much larger than it needs to function effectively, the aesthetic worth and sensitivity of these simple materials overrule the downgrade in efficiency, instead offering a more thoughtful approach to digital storage.

Cabbage Bowls, Yasuhiro Suzuki; Made from paper clay the bowls subvert our understanding of the disposable object. 2004

As shown through Blank, using metaphors to link ideas can be instrumental in creating new interpretations of objects. This practice is especially useful to design, as it allows both the designer and the consumer to “realise they’ve only been looking at one side of a thing” (Erard, M. 2015). These metaphors may not be obvious, nor must they be inviting, but instead are a means of realisation, a way to “change your view on things” (Erard, M. 2015). Cabbage Bowls, by Yasuhiro Suzuki conveys a new interpretation of the disposable through the somewhat obscure metaphor that a cabbage is like a bowl. The round shape and ephemeral nature of the cabbage is reflected in the disposable Cabbage Bowls. Where normally we would view the disposability as wasteful and careless we instead perceive connotations of growth within a larger life cycle. Like the Stone Mouse, the Cabbage Bowls require a certain amount of human engagement in order for them to exist functionally. Each leaf must be broken off the stalk of the cabbage for it to become a bowl. This intervention by the user forces the them to slow down and consider their usage of the bowl, and thus allows for a more thoughtful interaction with the design.

We often refer to the product of design as a design solution. However, I think this term is limiting in its definition. “To design for people, it is necessary to balance the tension between two seemingly contradictory needs for efficiency and for discovery — for answers and for questions” (Gaul, 2011) A design solution suggests an answer to a specific need, but it does not allow for the questioning we need for self-actualisation. Kenya Hara refers to this balance as Exformation, suggesting that “what invigorates the human mind is the unknown… knowledge is no more than the entrance for thought”. In a time where we move continuously, designing with the sensitive and thoughtful techniques of poetic design is essential for the reflection and mindfulness we need.

Erard, M. 2015, Seeing Through Words, viewed 5/12/16, <>
Gaul, C. 2011, The Art of Everyday Things, Sydney
Hara, K. 2007, Designing Design, Lars Müller, Baden, Switzerland
Wikipedia, 2016, Abraham Maslow, viewed 6/12/16, <>

 · Gerhardt, T. 2010, Stone Mouse, Tom Gerhardt, viewed 6 December 2016, < >
 · Sakata, S. 2011, Blank, Saboro Sakata, viewed 6/12/16, <>
 ·Suzuki, Y. 2004, Cabbage Bowls, Japanese Design, viewed 6/12/16, <>

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