Saturday, November 8, 2008

Human-Object Relations

Objects play signficant roles in our lives. But there are two ends of the spectrum of human-object relations: the extreme and the mundane. At the extreme, there exists the super-collectors, addicts, and brandwhores that actively consume, use, and collect. As mentioned in the brand allegiance post, user forums are a great source of information about these relationships. At the mundane, the relationship is so passive, the objects are so much a part of our world, that we do not acknowledge them. Fukasawa and Morrison call these objects Supernormal and Bruno Munari called them anonymous. But by any name these "quietly extraordinary" objects are so essential and pure that they are invisible. However, these are the most enduring objects because they are timeless and never go out of fashion.

Revitalizing the Lost, Forgotten, and Discarded

While writing a short bio for the Industry Projects class with Danese, I was reflecting on past projects to find common threads in my work. I realized that my best projects have involved revitalizing lost, forgotten, or discarded objects, crafts, and practices via new contexts. I think this continues the ideas in the previous post about retro. What is the appeal of the archaic and obsolete? How can we utilize objects that already exist and make them interesting again? The current rate of obsolescence means we have a massive supply of materials that are no longer wanted. However, the recently out of fashion, by definition, can't be cool. Objects seem to need to fade away before they have a chance to be appreciated again. How long does that take, and can a designer shorten the time needed by placing it in the right context?

Originals and Reproduced 'Retro'

Deadstock (and some used) Nike waffle trainers from the early 80s had been selling for $100-200 dollars for years on Ebay. I bid on a few pairs but never was willing to spend what the auctions eventually reached. I'm sure there was some aspect of their rarity that made them appealing, but when Nike started released a whole line of vintage trainers a couple years ago, I had little interest in either. Since one couldn't differentiate the originals from the nearly identical and common repros, the originals lost any cachet they had. And the repros weren't cool because they seemed like such a blatant marketing campaign - they came with pre-stained laces (that were actually dyed), yellowed rubber, and purposefully inconsistent sewing. Although some of the marketing materials were humorous, it felt like Nike didn't get why people liked the originals. I must not speak for the public though, because I think they sold fairly well.

Part of the reason people like things that aren't made anymore is because they aren't made anymore.

Value of Things

Christine Atha, in her design historian candidate talk, mentioned the difference in the value of things (goods or materials) in the West vs. the developing world. Because of the abundance of objects, we often don't conserve, respect, or appreciate the things that surround us. In the U.S. we had to learn, especially since World War II, how to use (throw away) all the new disposable items, like paper towels and food packaging. Things and material lost value. I should read the rest of Waste and Want, by Susan Strasser, if I decide to go this direction. Chapter Seven quotes historian John A. Kouwenhoven from 1959:
A commitment to democracy - and a certain indifference to waste and untidiness - are prerequisite to abundance ... waste is as much a result of democracy as abundance.
How can Americans relearn not to take material (and natural capital) for granted?

Multifunctionality vs. Particularity

While working on the Danese project this semester, we've been thinking a lot about combining functions and breaking out of typologies by focusing on behavior. However, targeting one very specific behavior and function is also intriguing. The philosophy of Unix software development is "Do one thing, and do it well." A great example of this in objects is Tomas Gabzdil Libertiny's Writing Table No. 3.

The top of the large wood frame table is made of thousands of strips of paper that form a forgiving surface designed solely for writing. Other behaviors, like eating, are implicitly discouraged because of the pristine, white, uncleanable material. Another interesting aspect of this project is the way in which objects can communicate their intended use.

Particularity is a refreshing approach compared to today's ubiquity of feature creep and multifunction.

Impact of Materials

This might be more of an investigation, but producing a set of objects in a single material, or one object in multiple materials could be interesting. It has the advantage of reducing complexity, as in either project, there is a significant constant. The form of many objects is determined by the material, so substituting another material can make for compelling, awkward, or surprising results. A good example of this is Maarten Baas's Plastic Chair in Wood. The same object in several materials could be another method of showing how much the material can change the nature of the object.