Arts & Culture

Intersecting Form & Function: An Ode to Daring Design

By Nicola Pardy


Good design affects our lives in a big way. It’s present in the desk we work around, the teacup we drink from, and the space we live in.  As fundamentally communicative creatures, we seek out meaning and intention in the objects around us, whether they are created by man or by nature.  Antonio Gaudi, the famous Spanish Catalan architect, believed that God communicated through design in nature, and he dedicated his life to creating buildings, churches, parks, and furniture inspired by nature’s unique geometry.  If you visit any of Gaudi’s masterpieces in Barcelona, such as the Casa Vicens or the Sagrada Familia church, you can witness his attempts to preserve this divine communication. His architecture’s epic columns resemble tree branches,  his ribcage-shaped rafters are inspired by the sinews of human anatomy, and his swirling ceilings mimic the spiraling of an ocean wave.  Gaudi’s belief that design was a means of communication extends beyond the realm of religion for most designers today. Design is also a method of communicating to the public, whether through mass-produced products (think ikea) or through art exhibits and museum installations.

The Japanese school of thought on design is based on the communication of beauty. Traditional concepts of beauty include shizen, a respect for beauty found in nature, wabi sabi, an appreciation for imperfect and impermanent forms, and datsuzoku, a sense of fresh creativity and surprise. Japanese design strives to achieve these ideals of beauty in order to inspire within viewers an emotional connection to art. In this way, design may be considered an art form that has aesthetic beauty, like a painting or a piece of music.

However, that is not to ignore design’s functional component. Innovative design is important because it differs from other art forms in one major way. Apple’s iPhone is the obvious example. The iPhone has become so wildly successful not only for its sleek appearance, but also for its originality and mastery in intersecting form and function. The precision and size of the touch screen optimizes Internet browsing. Its thin frame makes it easier to slide into a back pocket than any other phone on the market.

A less obvious example: the teacup and saucer. Have you ever considered how every detail of this design combination serves a specific purpose? The teacup’s handle makes it possible to sip the tea while it’s still hot, without the risk of burning your hand on the cup’s hot main structure. The indented circle in the center of the saucer perfectly matches the shape of the bottom of the cup and collects any spillage from a teacup too filled to the brim.  The designer of the teacup and saucer was clearly very in touch with the needs and concerns of the average tea-drinker.  And at the end of the day, this design’s dedication to optimizing its function differentiated it from any other tea-drinking device available at the time. This is probably why it has remained so timelessly popular. Great design clarifies and crystallizes the progress of the world, making our lives easier in both big and small ways.

Designers, then, are problem solvers seeking  answers to questions in the most innovative and aesthetically interesting ways possible. Here on the Observer staff, we value good design perhaps more than the average college students. We need to; thoughtful design is what allows our readers to digest the text on this page and what allows us to engage in communicative dialogue with the Tufts community.  So, in tribute to excellence in innovative design, the O brings you a selection of art, products, and technology that we think got it right.

1. Dutch desginer Jan Gunneweg has ventured to create a bicycle constructed primarily of wood. Weighing less than 35 pounds, the bike features a thick wooden spoke on each wheel that, according Gunneweg, “symbolize the legs of a man”.

2. Australian-born designer Steve Watson has revamped the teacup and saucer design for the post-modern world. Based on the idea of symbiosis, the Skase teacup set is meant to resemble a “close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.”

3. Don’t be fooled by the miniature size of the iPhone telephoto lens. Its 8x zoom capability can turn any iPhone 4/4s into a powerful photography tool, ideal for concerts, nature photos, travel, sports and street shots., the  online photography blog and store that sells this product calls it the newest innovation in iPhoneography. Each lens comes with a sleek black mounting case and a collapsible table tripod to steady your shot.

4. Storm King is one of the world’s most renowned outdoor sculpture parks.  Located in the lower Hudson Valley, about an hour north of New York City, the park features a collection of more than 100 sculptures set amidst 500 acres of beautiful field landscape. Storm King will reopen for its 2012 season on April 4th.

5. Whoever said that analog clocks will be outdone by their modern digital counterparts hasn’t seen the Circuit Clock, a wall clock with a minimalist aesthetic that displays the time of day through LED lights that rotate in rings around the outside of the clock face instead of traditional clock hands. Serbian designer, Steven Djurovic, made the clock easy to understand by indicating the hour reading with the LED light pointing outward, and minute reading with the light pointing inward.

6. Masatoshi Sakaegi’s abstract light designs incorporate the Japanese notion of shizen, or natural beauty, drawing inspiration from natural rock formations. Sakaegi’s designs will be featured in the Beauty in all Things: Japanese Art and Design exhibit in New York’s Museum of Design until June 3rd, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *