On design and Popples: a not so serious pamphlet

I was an industrial design student in the late nineties and one of the most popular word among insiders was ‘multipurpose’. We discussed a lot about our projects and the lowest common denominator was that infamous word, multipurpose. It didn’t matter what the discipline was: furniture, car design, product design, multifunctionality was the aspiring designer’s holy grail. It was like if we wouldn’t be able to put together several different features in a single object we were going to be just half of a graduate, wannabe designers with the original sin: the sin of not inventing something new and complex. Creating a fork that was just a fork would have been regarded as a failure in the attempt of making complicated an otherwise simple object. Let’s make a distinction first, I’m not talking about complexity in style or shape, not at all, minimalism was a well accepted diktat. Things should have been designed showing outer elegant simplicity and hidden brainy complexity, in other words we had to prove that we were able to give an added value or extra purpose to simple goods. We were not stylists (in its academic acception) but designers thus we had to go beyond caducous mere beauty. Easy to be said not to be done because most of the times we -students- were delivering answers to unasked questions, for us things had to be extremely modular and preferably detachable, we wanted to extend the sectional idea to any inanimate thing. It was a functional binge, a multitasking galore. As you know, my beloved reader, school is one thing, you just have to please (cerebrally, not physically) the professor, market is something different. Companies need money to survive and don’t make a big thing of ‘how intelligent a product is’ as long as it floods them with pecunia. Staying alive in the market is more of a cash flow competition rather than an intelligence contest, of course intelligence is required to thrive in business but products don’t necessarily have to be Einstein approved to sell. Just think about the visceral passion kids have for slime: it’s simple, no shape, apparently silly, doesn’t develop the brain for what I know, but it’s anti-stress and in a society where kids are over-scheduled they could really use some slimetime. All this unbearably boring preface doesn’t mean that quickly and badly designed stuff is OK, not at all, just don’t overthink, don’t overdo because afraid it’s never enough, don’t make your wife a greenhouse when all she wants is a rose, that’s the point. Always remember that one clear sentence is stronger than a long confused paragraph. If we look around there’s plenty of examples pointing that out, now let’s indulge in this dull and drowsy matter by listing some of them so the reader will finally fall asleep.

I’ve read many times about architects conceiving shared spaces that can be used as offices during the day and sort of clubs in the afternight. Open spaces constantly switching from work to leisure time, from internet entrepreneurs to clubbers. Correct me if I’m wrong but so far I didn’t see many people excited about it. True, startups were born at Starbucks’ tables and true, many do online business from there but they just sit at a table for some time, they don’t rent a place where the night before hordes of beery barbarians committed themselves to make the whole building sticky and dirt.

In 2003 Chevy introduced the SSR, an all-in-one vehicle putting together a convertible, a pick up truck, and a retro styled muscle car. Its design was eye catching (I mean it, really), the trunk was the sum of a Z3’s a Porsche’s and a Vette’s, last but not least it diligently delivered up to 390hp, not bad for the average ride experience on the coast. The point was that German sports cars buyers didn’t even look at it, truck lovers kept putting practical aspects first and pony cars junkies.. well, you know them. I personally liked the SSR but I also know car guys: they’re fundamentalists on four wheels with their own strict beliefs and opposite doctrines can’t coexist on a single chassis. It didn’t work.

“I want to buy a bag good for any occasion” no woman ever said.
I’ve seen several bag design contests where young designers showed their talent creating rather peculiar ‘transformers bags’.
I’m talking about weird stuff my friends, bags that can be opened as umbrellas in case of rain or unfolded on the ground as mats. Large tote bags imploding like popples to become purses and the freak show goes on. You know something? Bags are like drinks: every moment of the day requires a specific one, don’t you dare mixing chocomilk, Chianti and Jack Daniel’s in one glass assuming to swallow this unfortunate concoction throughout the day.
The rules we need to follow -as designers carrying out our dirty job- are:
A. Keep in mind practical aspects because only pure art should be useless.
B. Add just the features that customers really ask for.
C. Pack the whole thing with the proper style depending on the target customer not only your personal taste.

Have fun creating new amazing products!