What if design stood up for itself? What if instead of bowing immediately to our demands, design gently pushed back?
Design has always submitted to our will. Design’s immediate and unwavering compliance to our demands defines our relationship. It does what we ask of it. Any design refusing to conform to its purpose is discarded or rebuilt, its insolence ruled a defect or a flaw. But what if design stood up for itself? What if instead of bowing immediately to our demands, design gently pushed back?
Square Toilet Paper
For a 2000 exhibition entitled Re-Design: Daily Products of the 21st Century, architect Shigeru Ban re-conceptualized one of the most ubiquitous aspects of daily life – toilet paper. Traditionally structured around a rounded tube, toilet paper is designed to yield abundant amounts with minimal effort. A small tug sets the roll in motion and it gives, gives, gives – inevitably offering more paper than we really need. By changing the shape of the tube – making it square rather than circular – Ban changed both the shape and the nature of the paper molded around it. A tug is met with resistance as the roll’s squared corner encounters the edge of the metal dispenser. “Kata,” says the roll. “Kata-kata-kata,” each corner voicing protest as it passes. Need is no longer met by silent compliance. The roll will yield, but not without dissent. The result, hopefully, is a heightened consciousness of use.
Inert and lifeless, design is animated only through human use. It exists only by virtue of its functionality, possessing no reality independent of its purpose in our world. Would we think of it differently if it were alive? Constructed of a soft, flesh-like gel, the remote appears cold and dead when off. Once turned on, however, it seems to come to life. A soft light emanates somewhere from within as the center of the device begins to slowly rise and fall, mimicking the tranquil motions of breath. Left undisturbed, the remote will slumber peacefully. But should a human hand approach, sensors inside alert it to the imminent touch. It stops breathing, grows rigid – the light from within is extinguished. A remote is the ideal metaphor for the disturbance electronic distraction poses to life. If we had to interrupt its life before it could interrupt ours, we may think twice before picking it up.
Developed by STATIC!, an energy-awareness project in Sweden, the Power Aware cord visualizes energy rather than concealing it from sight. Represented by a pale blue light, energy begins to flow through the cord from the moment its plugged in. The longer the cord is in use, the more vibrant the light becomes. Eventually the light begins to pulse, then throb, demanding that we become conscious of the energy flowing beneath. Consumption ceases to be abstract – it becomes visible, quantifiable, real. The energy won’t resist use – quietly and obediently, it will continue to flow. But at the edge of our consciousness, the light will persistently throb.
Photos from Designing Design by Kenya Hara