There is an aspect of what I perceive to be great design that is often missing from product design but can be found more readily in interior and architectural design, ‘design art’ and other arts: emotional connection.
Of course, products can emulate natural forms to bring a feeling of familiarity or can have beautiful surface texture that makes you feel comfortable interacting with it. However, they do not provoke a truly emotional reaction just from seeing the product for the first time. Products are not something that people often contemplate, and if they do they tend to contemplate the making of it or the inspiration behind it.
While at the London Design Festival I viewed a few pieces that provoked an emotional response through clever handling of form, light, surface texture and experience. The first of these was ‘Foil’.
‘50,000 metal triangles make up British designer Benjamin Hubert’s undulating Foil installation, which casts light onto the V&A’s medieval tapestries.’
‘Foil was created through his studio Layer. Tiny triangles of stainless steel cover the structure, which was created with support from Braun and takes inspiration from the German manufacturer’s electric razors.’
While the installation is an intriguingly simple concept, the resulting effect on the room is extraordinary. The sounds, the lights, the held breath atmosphere… All of these things contribute to an astounding sensory experience that feels almost ethereal. The meditative quality of the room impresses itself upon you as soon as you enter, but words seem inadequate to describe the profound influence the room exerts upon every visitor.
While less of an experience, Henrietta Eating a Meringue was a piece I found to be quite humourous and evocative, exactingly sculpted to the design ideal in the creator’s mind.
Part of Maggi Hambling’s exhibition at the V&A, ‘Henrietta Eating a Meringue’ is an outstandingly evocative sculpture that cannot be given justice through digital photography. It is an experience to be viewed at all angles in real space.
Hambling’s friend, when diagnosed with diabetes, proceeded to throw it back in the face of the world and aggressively consume cream cakes in retaliation. Henrietta, eating her meringue, reminded Hambling of the crashing and breaking of waves upon rocks, thus inspiring this piece.
Described by the artist as ‘a drawing in space’ one can’t help but feel this is true. Though it seems frivolously sculpted, every line and froth is placed in such a way that there is no rest for the eye. The turbulent emotions thus captured in the sculpture are affecting and there is something indescribably alluring about the powerful presence of the piece in the centre of the room.
Both of these are quite far from product design but hold the emotional potential I think more products could encapsulate. Marc Newson is a designer, for whom some of his work has this potential energy. His ‘design art’ approach to his projects has earned him worldwide recognition and respect. Newson’s furniture especially holds great appeal to collectors, who have expressed a great deal of appreciation for the sensual forms in his pieces and how they can inspire emotion.
All of the examples I selected have clear differences but also have one key common thread running through the heart of them, and this thread is perhaps unquantifiable. It’s hard to design and execute something with the purpose of provoking an emotional response, as people are so unpredictable, but it is a worthwhile endeavour.
Foil and Henrietta Eating a Meringue garnered much more attention than other works in their gallery spaces, and people considered them for a longer time. Newson’s work is collected by avid fans all over the world, and even they sometimes struggle to put into words why they want his work so much. Therefore, there is clearly an unconscious desire to have an emotional connection with a display or product, and I feel that aspect of design should be considered to be much more important than it is currently.