Objects and Metaphors

There are some things in this world that cannot be explained with words alone.

As humans we constantly try to match feelings with words and comprehend what our senses are telling us when we look or feel something. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why something just works or why something feels right. Some relate this to instinct or a gut feeling – something telling us that it makes sense but cannot perhaps put to words what it is they’re feeling or seeing. More often than not, these feelings are closely related to how we as humans have a need to complete things. Michael Hendrix, on the topic of metaphor and design, explains that “We take what is unappealing and disorganised and reframe it into order and delight.” We just can’t deal with disharmony, and our natural instinct when confronted with such feelings is to fix it. However, sometimes it’s not that simple.

Objects can invoke such feelings – something that may be simple in appearance or function but beautiful and perplexing at the same time. But we aren’t sure exactly why they do so. George Felton uses the example of a car, and states that “even though that car can be seen and felt and driven, there are other aspects that determine how we relate to the vehicle, such as feelings of power or freedom or security”. These secondary, more thought provoking feelings are what tease our desire for understanding and meaning in something.

Blank – Cork Off

Furthermore, we are always subconsciously looking for meaning and purpose in all aspects of our lives and in all things. As part of this never ending search, we come across objects and environments that stir up this longing for meaning – metaphorical examples of life’s problems, hardships and joys. These are the objects that makes us think, make us question and make us ponder. ‘Blank’ by Saburo Sakata is an example of how we fundamentally seek and desire meaning and finality in things. We are confronted with a level of cognitive dissonance when looking closely at this object. It is a beautifully designed symbol of order and completion, and at the same time invokes feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity. The minimalist aesthetic coupled with its cute size and use of basic materials captures our immediate attention, but somehow draws us further and peaks our curiosity.

What’s most intriguing is not so much the cork top itself, nor the function of plugging the cork from one inlet to another, but the empty glass bottle. The fact that it appears to have no immediate function except to house the USB makes us feel uncomfortable, almost like it’s symbolic of how empty we feel with our search for purpose. The transparent glass is quite an ironic representation of the emptiness we feel because of how hidden, secretive and private our feelings often are to others. However, emptiness also brings the hope of fulfilment and excitement. Its emptiness compels us to fill it, to make it whole, to finish and complete it. The cork material top is such a brilliantly thought out component of this object, because Sakata uses the fact that we as humans naturally try to fix things, fiddle and play with things, finish things and seek things; to force us to interact with and treasure the item. After we use the USB, we MUST put the cork back onto the bottle – for fear of losing the USB yes, but also because it belongs there. It just makes sense!

Blank – Cork On

Michael Lopp in his book “Managing Humans” describes us as ‘completionists’ when he states, “Completionists are dreamers. They have a very good idea of how to solve a given problem and that answer to solve it right.” However, I think he underestimates just how many of us are indeed completionists. Looking back to the beginning, completionists are those that see something and say to themselves “that makes sense”. When we look at Sakata’s work ‘Blank’ we see that he has taken this idea that we humans need things to work, need to be finished and made it into a successful, thought provoking product. This concept paralleled with what we discussed earlier about our natural desire for belonging and purpose is encapsulated into this one product and really delves into a number of meaningful ideas.