Tom Gehardt’s innovative design elevates our primitive and instinctual use of natural objects into the technological world, and it’s changing the way we see it.
Gerhardt, ‘Stone Mouse’, 2010
Imagine a design which allows us as users to take control over the design, adapting it to our own ergonomic needs. Tom Gerhardt is a New York based designer and artist who practises a range of disciplines to create thought provoking, poetic objects which blur the line between the natural surroundings of a user and the technology they drive. A design of his which clearly challenges the status quo via formal metaphor is the ‘Stone Mouse’ 2010, where Gerhardt explains ‘Custom electronics inside the ring let the user move, click, and drag with any stone they choose’ (Stone Mouse, 2010). Humans are hunters and gatherers, and to use this mouse, the consumer literally has to go outside and hunt for a suitable rock, much like our ancestors searching for the right tool that fits perfectly in the palm of each individual’s hand.
Gerhardt, ‘Stone Mouse’, 2010
Although at first sight the mouse appears as a disposable object, when ironically placed within a permanent setting, it is actually the stone which is permanent, and rather the technology that changes and becomes obsolete over time. The stone, as a natural resource, has been used for centuries and Gerhardt has now brought it into the postmodern world, providing a sustainable and organic solution to the overuse of plastics and E-waste which ends up in landfill.
A 2011 review of Gerhardt’s designs by computer blogger, Rescuecom, explored the mass commercialisation of particular products, such as the iPod, since, although we as consumers erroneously believe that we are buying an individual and unique product, we are actually conforming with the majority of the population. They go on to describe how ‘there are no computer-oriented devices that are more homogenized than the computers’ keyboard and mouse’ (Rescuecom, 2012). Even as you read this, I bet you’re imagining the same ivory, two click scroll mouse and generic qwerty keyboard that we have all become so familiar with. Gerhardt challenges this stereotype with ‘Stone Mouse’, which, in turn influenced the Japanese commercial design group, Evergreen’s similarly affordable ‘Bamboo Keyboard and Mouse’. The use of ergonomic polished bamboo to replace the traditional hard plastic creates a soft, earthy environment, bringing the natural indoors and into our often technologically dominated everyday lives. Available in Japan, with the keyboard being $68 and the mouse $34, we can only hope these kind of products will become readily available in Australia soon (Gizmodo, 2015). According to Rescuecom, it is through Gerhardt and Evergreen’s innovative designs that ‘we can start reclaiming a more natural sense of style that matches a warmer environment than the mass-produced computer companies would have us accept’.
Evergreen, ‘Bamboo Keyboard and Mouse’
Another example of Gerhardt’s design that incorporates his symbolic nexus between disposability and permanence is FireLight, where a lighting system ‘subtly responds to the candle flame’s flickering, and turns off when the candle is blown out’ (FireLight, 2015). It allows an artificial light, covered with birch wood, to replicate the ‘organic qualities’ of an everyday tea-light candle in a recharge base, accentuating and exaggerating the beauty of a bare flame and our primitive fascination with it, much like stones, yet again in a highly technological modern context. Tom is now working as a co-designer with Dan Provost at Studio Neat, as he continues to create modest, natural inspired designs with which consumers like you and me can interact.
Gerhardt, ‘Firelight’, 2015