Society is in need of Wasteful Design

Society is in need of wasteful design.

I define wasteful design as a designed object that allows us to waste time in the contemplation and discovery of previously unseen aspects of an object, enabling discoveries to be absorbed not strained onto us.

Why can’t we appreciate uselessness? What is illogical for an observer to take time and wait for something mind provoking to arise from a design’s exterior?

Contemporary designer Chris Gaul has stated:

“…there is significance in transcending the artifice of rational thought” (Gaul, 2010)

“The artifice of rational thought” is perhaps the common belief that the more function oriented the design, the better it is. The negativity that may arise from design deeply embedded in this thought is obvious: the beauty of an object will be lost. Beauty shares a correlation with wastefulness and only becomes apparent when observed for a length of time. This is excluding that of an obvious, overstated aesthetic beauty — which strikes an observer in their eye as soon as the object comes in sight. True beauty, that of which narrates mindfulness, is able to reinterpret what has been seen before as ever new. As Gaul suggests:

“To be mindful is as simple as it is challenging. But even a small moment of mindfulness in the midst of everyday distractions can be profound.” (Gaul, 2010)

Hence mindfulness comes from the unproductive act of pausing to observe and fully understand a design. To be mindful demonstrates true poetry — notions of understanding and imagining beyond what is presented.

In this regard, the tension between efficiency and the potential for discovery can elevate a design’s meaningfulness and reveal its beauty. Yuki Ida’s Straw straw reflects tension between the limited efficiency of its material and contemporary familiarity of the product.

Straw straw, 2009

Upon observing the design, one becomes aware of its connotations of eventual decease and aging. However, a direct reflection of its purpose also arises — to be used once and thrown away. Combined, these thoughts present a powerful questioning of the human psyche — which frames the most natural substance of the straw to be unhygienic yet allures industrially reassured products as safe and reliable.

The inventive intention of plastic was to increase an object’s durability hence sustainability.

Yet with our changed social perception, plastic is synonymous with cheap hence determined as fine to use once and throw away.

This poses an interesting question: What is the meaning of using plastic?

The design’s ability to lead one to ponder upon its meaning and societal values enable meaningfulness to occur is obvious.

The argument surrounding the inherent and evolving connotations of a straw is furthered by its material practice. The material and shape of “a straw” incurs a dual effect of breaking the familiarity of its shape with the material, as well as elevating natural straw as a functioning and plausible product.

Thence the design’s material is immediately recognisable yet perplexing to the audience. This is due to the familiar connotations derived from its material, name and form used as a guide to interpret and investigate deeper meanings such as sustainability, memory as satire.

A simple gesture of the product’s material choice reflects a manipulative weaving of the product’s materialistic, formal and poetic meanings to trigger observation and contemplation. Similar gestures can be seen in the works of Marcel Duchamp, where he questioned the meaning of a chair by exhibiting a wooden chair, a photograph of a chair and a dictionary definition of a chair. Familiarity isn’t stripped away, but used as metaphor to unveil beauty hidden away by an object’s recognisable facade. Metaphor is a powerful tool often employed by designers to allow reinterpretation hence a great “wastefulness” of time — as modern journalist Michael Erard explains:

“Metaphors are meant to help people to understand the unfamiliar. … [help them] realise that they’ve only been looking at one side of a thing.” (Erard, 2015)

By creating tension between the product’s efficiency and familiarity, Ida successfully erupted the customary meaningfulness of the product, leading to the validation of new values. Hence Straw straw demonstrates a wasteful and poetic approach to design by enshrining the object with beauty that was initially hidden behind its façade.

In a contrast to the notion of transforming the familiar, similarity also becomes highly utilitarian for the designer in creating meaning out of what is normally conceived as mindless and inefficient.

Blank, 2011

In Saboro Sakata’s 2011 design, Blank, the USB and the glass jar share thematic similarity in their ability to store and transport information and desired goods. A number of differing pairs are immediately recognised by the user such that of written information vs typed information and being plugged in vs put in to function. These are inoffensive dichotomies separated by technological innovation — becoming a metaphor of time and separation. Symbolism is also used: USB being a symbol of contemporary society and the jar an eternal one — reminiscent of slower times that have gone by. The design is highly poetic not only in its meaningfulness but symbolism and form, which conveys archetypally poetic signposts.

In regards to the above, thematic similarity and traditional poetic elements convey a profound tone of recognisability — which in turn renders the beauty and meaningfulness of the design as understandable. Thus the similarity in the meaning and function of two objects are framed under a poetic light to prevail meaning and beauty within the product.

This thought is further advanced by Blank ‘s inadequacies as a product. Glass is an ancient material and easily broken, hence not ideal for an object that travels with a user. It also occupies unwanted space with air containing nothingness — which is the ultimate embodiment of inefficiency. This deems itself as an inevitable result as they are products of a dichotomy in time.

However, despite the apparent inefficiency and wastefulness of the product, a strange similarity arises between the ancient material and modern object. USBs are easily lost, hence inefficient to the natural design of humans, whom are incredibly forgetful and often highly active — naturally prone to losing things. Design academic Kees Dorst has stated that:

“The nature of design thinking is that design problems are open and designers interpret and re-interpret these problems through framing” (Dorst, 2010).

Through the reframing of their differing contexts yet similar values, Sakata’s Blank reflects universal values rather than those restricted to the rigid and inflexible constraint of time.

In this regard, Blank achieves meaningfulness through the “wasting” of space and material as well as an anti-functional hence “wasteful” poetic framing, allowing for the user to not only perceive but experience the product.

If one were to revise history, they would find that Art had pioneered a celebration of wastefulness throughout history. Henri Matisse repeatedly painted apples throughout his career from his simple fascination with their colours and textures. What otherwise would have just been a mundane fruit became works of art, widely appreciated for their ability to unveil the beauty hidden behind an apple’s ordinary appearance (The School of Life, 2015).

Contemporary design scene of 2000’s has absorbed this artistic spirit of discovering beauty in wasteful ventures — such being the case of Geta by Shuhei Hasado. The design of Geta evokes natural connotations, enabling the audience to regain their memory of and connection with nature. However, its immediate visual effect on the audience is transcended by its ability to extend in meaning to question ready-existing knowns.

Geta, 2015
Left: Hasado in the works, Right: Geta in display

Geta brings natural surfaces into the shoe, counteracting footwear’s essential purpose of distancing the foot from the ground. Hence the known purpose of a shoe is diminished, framing the audience to question the validity of a product with no apparent purpose. The lack of purpose is however justified with the purity of its intention to project beauty as an exhibited art, enabling the design to sustain both artistic naivety and a postmodern attitude of questioning norms. As acclaimed designer Kenya Hara asserted:

“Producing something new from scratch is creative, but making the known unknown is also an act of creation” (Hara, 2000)

Geta by Shuhei Hasado makes the known usability of a shoe unknown, perplexing the audience to ultimately transform its inefficiency into art.

Design is functional and aesthetically pleasing, but it should also be enjoyable for the eye and the mind. As society progresses, I hope designers successfully re-prioritise, going on to create and fulfil needs that will benefit society in the long run.

References:

Gaul, C. 2010, The Art of Everyday Things: Creating moments of mindfulness in everyday life, Honours thesis, University of Technology, Sydney

Erard, M. 2015, “See Through Words”, Online Article, < https://aeon.co/essays/how-to-build-a-metaphor-to-change-people-s-minds >, Aeon.com.

Dorst, Kees. (2010). The Nature of Design Thinking. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 8th design thinking research symposium (dtrs8), Sydney.

The Book of Life, 2015, “Why we hate cheap things”, The School of Life. < http://www.thebookoflife.org/why-we-hate-cheap-things/ >

Hara, K. 2015, Designing Design, Re-Design: Daily Products of the 21st Century, Lars Muller; 4th ed. Edition, London.