See The Everyday Objects That’ve Inspired 12 Leading Creative Minds

On display during Milan Design Week are the objects that’ve inspired everyone from Naoto Fukasawa to Her set designer K.K. Barrett, including electric tape, a sewing machine, and vintage pamphlets about fungi.


“What inspired this piece?” spectators and reporters will inevitably ask of the work they see at Milan Design Week, where hundreds of the world’s most talented designers are currently in attendance.


Alas, inspiration is nothing if not elusive. But in an honest attempt to study creative motivations more closely, designers Jasper Morrison and Jonathan Olivares, and Apartamento magazine editor-in-chief Marco Velardi, have curated an exhibition called Source Material, on display now, that assembles some of the small, analog, and fairly mundane objects in which dozens of creative ideas have originated.

Konstantin Grcic’s industrial ear muffs

In total, 54 creative types submitted keepsakes and reference objects for the exhibition. The only commonality between the objects is their innately physical presence: You can put them on a shelf. There the similarities end. The collection is a peculiar, and even nostalgic, time capsule of used and much-loved things. Items range from old Singer sewing machine to a dirty copy of Charles Bukowski’s Mockingbird Wish Me Luck.

One theme bubbles up: Many objects hark back to the designers’ youths. Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa, probably best known for creating the Dieter Rams-esque wall-mounted CD player for Muji, selected a roll of gray vinyl friction tape. Fukasawa grew up playing with these rolls of tape because his father worked for an electric construction company, and at an early age, Fukasawa found the circular, tightly wound pattern to be monolithic and beautiful. Each of the Bouroullec brothers submitted an item: Erwan picked his mother’s Singer sewing machine and Ronan chose an old drawknife he used to play with in his father’s workshop.

Find more from the cabinet of curiosities in the slide show above.

Visit Source Material at Milan’s Kaleidoscope Project Space, from April 8 to 12.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.