The Return of Function: The Everyday Design Movement

Why is the design world romancing staplers, pencil holders paper clips and other incidental objects of daily life?

A little more than a year ago the design world was still on its giddy pursuit of over-the-top items of questionable utility. Porcelain Squirrels for $1,100. A limited-edition armoire encased in hand-painted enamel leaves for $700,000. A bench made of hand-molded clay for $6,500.


All that frivolity was unsustainable, and it has recently given way to a new appreciation for the humble virtues of everyday objects. The things you might find in your utility drawer–scissors, pencils sharpeners and allen wrenches–are the unlikely design fashion of the moment. 


Daniel To and Emma Aiston, a pair of young Australian designers, launched a collection at 100% Design in London last week with a deliberate emphasis on the commonplace: a rubber band ball, a thermometer and a flashlight (above). “There is a certain pleasure in designing a product that hasn’t been over embellished,” they told Yatzer earlier this year. “It is what it is–functional, attractive products that serve a straightforward purpose.”
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A set of similarly mundane objects called Anything was also shown at 100% Design last week. Anything, by the British designer Michael Sodeau and a Japanese company called Suikosha, includes those functional but unglamorous items lying around your house: a stapler, tape dispenser, an alarm clock, erasers and scissors (above).

morrison show

During 100% Design the British designer Jasper Morrison mounted “Jugs, Jars & Pitchers,” an exhibition of vessels found in flea markets and junk shops. The show is up through tomorrow at his London Studio.  “My feeling is that design which follows the current ‘entertainment’ model, which attaches more importance to media exposure than to the real-life performance of an object, has run its course, and that it’s time for designers to shape up and design things which have built-in long-term performance,”  Morrison said.


super normal

Morrison is the godfather of the Everyday Design movement. Three years ago he and Naoto Fukasawa assembled ordinary objects–vegetable peelers, clothespins, plastic ketchup bottles–for a London exhibition they called “Super Normal.”  The show was Morrison’s manifesto: Objects designed to gain attention are usually unsatisfactory while designs that make a difference in our lives go unnoticed.

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Apart from function, everyday objects are newly appreciated for their purity of form and slightly campy charm. Seen through the eyes of curators and connoisseurs, they assume a kind of unexpected beauty, as if we had beheld the contents of our pantry for the first time. Take, for example, the web site Ancient Industries,  which documents vintage objects of common usage, and sells dustpans, hot water bottles, milk pots, a cake stand, among other items.