Making the Familiar into the Unfamiliar

Through poetic approaches to design, one is able to change and modify the familiar into the unique. When this idea is projected onto objects and products, we become more aware of their functional, aesthetical and interactional qualities. Thus, poetic design heightens particular aspects and values in objects so they go from being something so familiar to something more prominent and unique.

Due to the high rise in mass production, it has created an era of very generic and standardised objects since “almost every design is based on the perspective of large scale manufacturers” (Kenya Hara- What is Design? p.422). As Christopher Gaul states, this is because of how “modern design has largely been a story of the relentless pursuit of efficiency”. However this efficiency has also impacted the ‘affect’ an object could have such as the functional, aesthetical and interactional qualities.

I think this was a strong point that Kaoru Mende was trying to bring out from his design ‘Anniversary Matches’. When you look into his creation, you can clearly see that they are not your usual standardized pack of matches. Each match is different due to the selective choice of varying twigs. This is highly unusual as when we imagine a usual pack of matches, there’s no way you can individually differentiate each match. One feature that Mende has kept the same amongst his matches are the red tips which makes the whole design collective as a group. The packaging for the design is quite bare and plain, thus the entire focus is on the group of matches/twigs. Mende has successfully made this household object into something more prominent and unique, but it made me question why? Kaoru Mende expresses that he was “interested in designing the relationship between people and light”. So in a way, through the ‘Anniversary Matches’, he is making us “consider the relationship between humans and fire, which spans tens and thousands of years” as Kenya Hara states. For our ancestors fire was essential for their daily life as it provided them with warmth and light, but in today’s day and age, we take that for granted; with a swipe of a match we are able to light up anything of our choosing. Since mass production has made a box of matches very standardized and so familiar, it has lost its interactional and functional qualities since we have taken it for granted. By dragging the design back to its roots, Mende has successfully made us appreciate the use of matches.

Not only that, but the ‘Anniversary Matches’ also make us realise how industrial design and mass production has supressed individuality and creativity from designers “…while the will and strategy of the corporations that plan, produce and sell goods or services” (Kenya Hara- What is Design?) flourish because at the end of the day the world is run by “commercial and economic imperatives” (Christopher Gaul). For designers in this day and age, it’s hard to find that balance between value (what fills the pocket) and discovery (making unique design that questions norms). Writer John Ruskin and artist William Morris, who protested against machine production, also believed that technology would “threaten to roll right over the intricate, delicate, sensibilities awakened in us by objects”. I believe what they are trying to say is that via mass production, an object becomes a seamless design produced to serve the beholder. That personal and intricate connection you have with an object is gone. That is why designers like Kaoru Mende add poetic elements to his designs so they go from being something so familiar to something you have a deeper relationship with such as the ‘Anniversary Matches’. We are inclined to see how they are linked into our ancestral roots since the functional, aesthetical and interactional qualities of the design is further explored in contrast to your standardised matches.

Culture also comes into play when it’s intertwined with mass production; many people had to adapt from a slow rural life to a faster, more crowded urban life. Traditional handmade objects soon became either a luxurious entity since machines couldn’t replicate the same quality or they became demeaning as machines mass produced the same product in great quantity. However, there are designers such as Shuhei Hasado who works with the industrial boom and incorporates traditional techniques into his design making practices so his objects and creations hold traditional values. Shuhei Hasado who is a Japanese craftsmen, finds meaning to his work from his appreciation of nature which “stems from him growing up in a valley surrounded by mountains away from urban cities” (Syuhei). You can clearly see this in his work ‘Geta’. He has transformed a very cultural object into something that evokes your sense of touch. This mass produced product has now changed into something more intricate and delicate since poetic design has come into play. Each sandal also has different materials such as twigs, sand, wood and moss placed on top of the surface. I guess Shuhei Hasado was trying to evoke the feelings of walking barefoot on nature. This draws out our senses and enables us to feel as if we are returning back to the natural world. From what I get out of his design, I realise due to technological advancement and mass production our interaction with the natural world is reduced. His design makes us more aware of how far away we are from our origins and how dependant we are on technology. Even he states “to improve the quality of our lives we need to return to at least some of our origins” (Shuhei). As you can see a very traditional and familiar object has been transformed to evoke ones sensory nerves on their feet. This then forces the user to connect back to the natural world. I personally find this exhilarating knowing how a simple idea can do so much.

Even though in the design ‘Geta’ by Shushei Hasado, the original functional qualities of the sandal was taken away, we were still able to see the previous form of the geta, but what happens when a designer scrapes away the entire form of an object and makes the known the unknown?

Personally I believe poetic design not also reworks the meaning behind an object but also its image. It goes as far as making the familiar to into the non-recognisable, however even if an object is defaced, the metaphorical values are still there. As Highmore Ben (2002) states, “taking something that we think we already know and making it unknown thrills us afresh with its reality and deepens our understanding of it”. This ties in with the ‘Stone Mouse’ by Tom Gerhardt; the original form and structure of the mouse is taken away and replaced with a stone. This stone is of your choosing, making the whole experience more personal. Even though the product no longer has central qualities and outlooks of a mouse, you are still inclined into using it as it has more of a personal touch, thus deepening our connection and understanding to this product. Tom Gerhardt has challenged the visual idea of mass production; how things are identically made, and has made an object that was once ordinary and familiar into something conspicuous and noticeable. Even though a stone rock is quite bizarre at first, it still holds the functional qualities of a mouse; you are able to right and left click, drag and move the mouse around.

Functional qualities really enhances the user to engage and interact with a design more. Sometimes the poetic nature of the design is purely the functional qualities such as the ‘Cabbage Bowl’ by Yasuhiro Suzuki. Initially looking at the design, it looks like a basic cabbage. However the user discovers by interacting with it that there are functional aspects to it. You are able to unravel the cabbage into many layers which takes in shape of bowl. The designer has taken notice of the primary shape of a cabbage, then connected it to how the leaves of the cabbage take form of a bowl. The designer has cleverly used the colour white as green would have been too obtrusive, whereas white is more minimal and goes back to the idea of white plates and bowls. The familiar aspect is the cabbage itself; everyday veggie we all eat. But now, it has been transformed to provide greater service, thus making it unique. Even though the design itself is quite plain and simple, the minimalistic aspect is what gives its aesthetics. As Glenn Parsons and Allen Carlsons (Book: Functional Beauty) puts it, “each of us consult our own experience to determine the extent to which our delight in functional things is aesthetics”.

As you can see poetic approaches to design has enabled individuals to rethink the way they perceive an object or product. This is because something that was so familiar and ordinary in our life has been defaced into something that makes us go back to our origins like the ‘Anniversary Matches’ by Kaoru Mende or even the natural world like the ‘Geta’ by Shuhei Hasado. Sometimes these objects are so defaced that it no longer holds its original form, but still serves its functional qualities such as the Stone Mouse’ by Tom Gerhardt and the ‘Cabbage Bowl’ by Yasuhiro Suzuki. Individually they all challenge the norms of mass production and technological advancement, plus makes the familiar into something unique with deeper meaning.


C. Gaul. unknown, the Art of Everyday Things, unknown.

Hara, K. 2015, Designing Design, L. Mullers, unknown.

Kaoru Mende- Anniversary Matches, photographed unknown, viewed 3 December 2016, <>

Shuhei Hasado- Geta, photographed by Haptic, viewed 5 December 2016, <>

Syuhei JP 2013, Profile- Shuhei Hasado, Japan, viewed 30 November 2016, <>

Tom Gerhardt- Stone Mouse, photographed by unknown, viewed 5 December 2016, <>

Yasuhiro Suzuki- Cabbage Bowl, photographed by K. Obara, viewed 1 December 2016, <>

Like what you read? Give Bamina Peiris a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.