Form follows what?

The brief? Design a one-piece functional object. My position? Criticize functionalism with an functionally ambiguous object…

When I received the brief, I knew I wanted to take an alternative path than following the brief, so I wrote to my friend and mentor from Colombia, Alfredo Gutiérrez Borrero, so that he could suggest me some references to strengthen the argument, the story behind the object. His suggestion were exactly what I needed to aim my project successfully: an article from Jan Michl called Form Follows What?, reason why this post is called the same; a reflection around affordances, both from the behavioral psychology background and the design background (first introduced by Don Norman); and, last but not least, the first part of the movie The Gods Must be Crazy, in which an isolated tribe in the Kalahari desert have an encounter with a Coca-Cola bottle, and end up finding diverse uses to it (none of them being containing liquid!). After I digested (or tried to) this different references, I also included one that came to my mind, in the structuring of the general concept: the collection of impossible objects made by Jacques Carelman.


So, what was my argument? A designer cannot design the way people use things, but can suggest different functions that the object can afford. I think the case of the movie is very important here, because something as simple and obvious as a bottle is absolutely re-interpreted in use, and even what we can consider obvious practical functions (as containing or grabbing) are ignored… this also says a lot about how we are culturally determined to perceive what objects can afford (Donald Norman – perceived affordances).

And what do the impossible objects have to do with all this mess? Well, I believe they are not impossible (I understand the irony intended by Carelman, off course), their are just possible on different uses than the ones we are used to on the objects he tries to represent.

My outcome is an object that tries to be a bottle, but doesn’t get to be one for its overture at both extremes… what would you use it for? Answer in the comments please!

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