The Functional Beauty of Ugly Things

Eyesores that bring joy through what they enable

The new shower hose attachment thingy I purchased at Home Depot over the weekend is one of these. It is undeniably ugly—made of cheap-looking, mismatched bits of plastic, it has to be forced over your shower faucet and restrained with a punitive metal tie to provide a makeshift handheld showerhead. My internal groan is almost audible.

DANCO Versa 1-Spray Portable Hand Shower

But this new appendage turns showers for my 4 year-old into gleeful play instead of work for me. Not to mention saving me the trouble of tearing down a wall to install the real thing. The kid is done in about 10 minutes, beaming ear-to-ear, looking up at a relieved father-slash-disgusted-designer. Her joy calms my simmering urge to rip the thing out and toss it in the trash (er… recycle bin).

There are more of these objects in the real world, and the virtual one I design for. Sometimes I make peace with them, on other occasions I reject them on principle. But maybe the lesson here is to look at things through the eyes of a 4 year-old. Maybe there is a place for these functional-but-ugly things in the world. The pragmatist in me certainly thinks so; the designer in me is uncomfortable.


Update: Friend and fellow designer Sumier decided to reinforce what I’d been thinking in this companion post about the Monobloc chair.

Father, husband, vegan, Design Director at Medium. Trying to do as much with as little as possible.