Uncomfortable Design: Thoughtful and Annoying

Design is centred around two basic premises: usability and aesthetics. On the one hand, whatever you are designing must function properly – a chair should hold your weight, a fan should cool the air. On the other hand, the aesthetic of a design is what draws people to it and if you are selling your design, it is the aesthetic they will look at first.

People tend to believe that the thing that looks the best must be the best. This is why phone companies spend a lot of time selling the sleekness of their design or the screen that wraps around. It is also why lots of websites are really beautiful to look at but are a complete nightmare to try to navigate. Often, a choice between two products will come down to the aesthetics.

The usability/aesthetic model can be applied to any object but the balance between the two may shift according to what it is. My laptop looks good and fits nicely on my desk but if it decides to ‘update and restart’ one more time then I’m going to defenestrate it. It may be aesthetically pleasing with a nice screen, but if I can’t get on the internet then the usability is immediately compromised. To be honest, the more unusable it becomes, the less I want to look at it.

There are, of course, a few things where aesthetics are more important than usability: I have a wooden boat that won’t float or indeed do anything useful other than look lovely on my sideboard. It is made of olive wood, has beautifully rounded edges and interchangeable sails: all details that add to the pleasing aesthetic of an otherwise useless object. I spent around an hour in the shop I bought it in on a holiday in Greece, picking up almost every boat and trying out different sails. All I was looking for was the combination most pleasing to my eye.

So with this in mind, I present to you a website a friend posted to me on Facebook yesterday: TheUncomfortable.com.

Here, Katerina Kamprani, Athens-based architect has created objects that are designed

‘to deconstruct the invisible design language of simple everyday objects and tweak their fundamental properties in order to surprise you and make you laugh. But also to help you appreciate the complexity and depth of interactions with the simplest of objects around us.’

My favourite design is the watering can. I love the logical illogicality, or possibly the illogical logicality of this object. It takes the idea of a watering can literally, turning the spout and rose back on itself to water the can.  Watering appears to be continuous, an applied circular logic. It makes sense, then to put the plant into the can itself.

watering can

 

This design is just one of many examples of how changing a single, aspect of a design can open up possibilities – albeit unlikely and often ridiculous possibilities. Questioning what we know about design in this way is pleasing, but it also opens us up to ideas we would have otherwise rejected immediately.

We know that this object will not work; we know that the water will not flow in a continuous cycle. But here it is, designed and produced anyway. It is an object that should really just be a concept. How will it influence our concepts now?

It is thoughtful and really annoying. I feel compelled to turn the spout around but I also can’t help but fight this instinct and take pleasure in its oddity.

I want one already.

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