The uncanny valley is a well documented and understood principle these days. With robotics and artificial intelligence spreading into every corner of life it’s difficult to avoid being freaked out by a close-but-not-quite-there talking face or a chat-bot that makes it hard to tell if you’re asking human for advice on buying mattresses or a well-spoken robot. There’s a level of discomfort there that’s difficult to pin down until someone else points it out. The discomfort with Katerina Kamprani’s “The Uncomfortable” is, well, in the title, and it’s obvious at first glance.
Clearly these items are meant to be seen and not used, thought about, but never tucked away in akitchen drawer (unless you’re just that kind of anarchist). Initially rendered in 3D, the Athen’s based Kamprani writes that the collection is meant 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.” And that they do. In rendering common household objects useless, Kamprani is able to remind us of the elegance in their design. A good spoon is nothing more than a bent piece of metal, and yet it serves infinitely many purposes. Buttons, normally thoughtless components of our clothes, suddenly become thoughtful when they’re an inch thick.
What they call to mind for me is a book called Emotional Design. Written by Donald Norman in 2004, Emotional Design is the book that posits it’s titular concept. Essentially, Norman argues that more attractive objects do literally function better. In stark contrast to those that believe “form follows function,” the emotional response elicited by the shape and color and texture of a thing can here be just as, if not even more, important than the purpose it serves. The cover of the book features a juicer officially titled “Juicy Salif” which, as you might surmise from the fact that it has a title, is no ordinary juicer.
The Juicy Salif was designed by Philippe Starck on a napkin in a pizza parlor in Capraia, and is just as incredible as one would expect given such an auspicious birth. The common juicer is very much a staple item on the list of un-necessary kitchen items that way too many people own. Salif is, however, able to render a usually thoughtless object enticing, or as Norman describes, seductive. Rather than turning an easily recognizable object into something comically unusable by removing or altering its core design, Salif has turned the ordinary into something totally unrecognizable by adding new elements. In this case, however, the thing still functions, and really that’s the only way we can identify it as a juicer.
All of this is to say that we take for granted our everyday objects. We’ve arrived at the ceramic mug only after years and years of iteration and happy accidents, it is, truly, a thing of beauty, yet it takes a designer’s uncomfortable redesign of one to make us realize this. Just because something is common shouldn’t mean it can’t illicit an emotional reaction from us, and in fact, I think a teaspoon is one of the most seductive objects around if you give it a chance. Right up there with the Juicy Salif.