Why useless design is still useful.
Matt Benedetto is a product designer and he creates inventions we would never be allowed to realize at University. You might have heard about this crazy designer or seen his inventions on his Instagram page- Unnecessary Inventions. From Crocsgloves to Lego Socks, the crazier the better. These designs are, as the name says, unnecessary, but they will also crack you up. Even though they seem useless, they still are well designed and fulfil their function or “non-function”. Even his wackiest products have design in them and look aesthetically pleasing. If they would not have been designed, the products would be completely useless.
This shows how important design is in a product. Even useless inventions are still designed. This is very logical, take this example: if you would give an engineer the requirements of a product and tell them to make it, they will purely look at the purpose and the function. The product will work, but it will probably not look very appealing or aesthetically pleasing. A designer would probably cry in agony when they see the monstrosity. People would not want to use it and definitely not buy it. Who is going to spend their precious money on that? Designers do not only focus on the purpose and function but also on the experience, which is as important.
How uselessness is still useful
Now you are wondering how these useless and functionless designs can still be useful. For us designers, they can have a purpose in different ways. Thinking about design in a different context can broaden your creativity. Sometimes we need to colour outside of the colouring picture to draw a different image; create an original idea instead of recreating an already existing one. Let go of all the restrictions and let your imagination take you to a place you are not allowed to be. Be as childish as unnecessary designs are, and enjoy it.
One of these restrictions is visible in our University; we are pushed to design for problems. In your vision, you should identify a problem in society. As a designer, you should create designs that help this problem in any way possible. The problems we describe in our designer’s vision are the current problems that occur in the world and our society. It is absolutely fine if you want to design for these problems and it is necessary. Nevertheless, we do also have to realize, that we cannot all save the world with design. And we have to consider if we want to let the problems of today define our designs for the future of tomorrow.
Happiness & Design
The Unnecessary Inventions, in contrast, are products which create minor problems that don’t even exist or we are not aware of. These products are not intended to solve pressing world problems. Matt Benedetto focuses more on the design and the experience of the product rather than the actual purpose or function of it. Do we want to buy it or feel the need? Probably not, but we can get a good laugh out of it. The goal of these designs is to entertain people and consequently make them happy, this is also the most important goal in the ethical theory called Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism is based on the belief that we should increase happiness and pleasure and decrease pain and unhappiness. If we do not design for problems, then we can focus on what solving the world’s problems should result in; indirect world happiness. We can focus this more individually and design for direct happiness. The useless inventions may not solve a pressing problem, but they give you direct happiness and enjoyment. Another example of this are the games we love playing. Games are not solving world problems or any other problems. We play them because we enjoy them ourselves or with others. They provide us with an experience fulfilled with happiness. We live in a country and time where most of us do not have to worry about our basic needs. We don’t even realize that it is not usual to have water or food. It is human nature to have a purpose, first, this was surviving at all costs. We are not surviving anymore, we are now living. Therefore, we need to find a new purpose. We now look for a life filled with meaning and happiness. We should also have designers who focus their designs on helping people to fulfil this new need. Not to forget, designers should do this as well. They should create designs that make them happy.
What else to design for?
When a design doesn’t have the purpose of solving a problem, it could also be used to raise awareness for that problem. We could create designs which have the purpose to confront people with certain problems. This confrontation can be used to provoke a reaction in people.
It could also be a type of design that makes people wonder and think about their perception of the world around them. People tend to have problems with putting life in perspective. They are stuck living in their own world; their carefully crafted box. We should explore what is outside of the box, there’s more to it than the straight lines inside.
Maybe design should allow and even push people to use their own creative minds, instead of designers doing this for them. People should not take over our jobs, but it could be a design which people can influence or manipulate in an interesting way. These are a couple of unusual suggestions to think about.
If we would completely let go of the restriction of design having a purpose, you can wonder what design would then look like… Happiness is one experience we can design for, but we can look even further into this question. If we are not designing for ‘’important’’ problems, then what type of experiences can we else design for?
text ISABEL KUIPERS
graphics ALAIN VAN DE VEN
media ROOS VLAAR