We have all noticed a novelty kitchen utensil, comically disguised as something else, and chuckled to ourselves, ‘Isn’t that clever?’ or ‘Isn’t that cute?’, but what is it about these quirky designs that makes us love them so much?
Standing in the homewares aisle of Peters of Kensington, it’s impossible to look past the rows of ‘cute’ utensils, Penne pasta shaped garlic peelers, Pinocchio funnels and condiment gun sets (Peters of Kensington, 2014), it almost feels as if they are screaming ‘I’m fun! Use me!’ at each eager customer walking past. This is clever design. They allow us to bring pop culture into our kitchen making our everyday lives that much more interesting with poetic objects that tell stories about how to use them.
Fred & Friends (Fred & Friends, 2014) are an international team of designers based in Rhode Island who design household objects which take ‘every-day functional products and turn them into something fresh and unexpected, something funny’.
Winnif Pang is a Hong Kong based lifestyle product designer who works for Fred & Friend and his colander design ‘cracked up’ uses functional and formal metaphorical design practises to entice users (Winnif Pang: Design File, 2013). Pang cleverly connects the basic use of a colander with a cracked surface, such as glass, which often involuntarily allows a substance to flow through, which does just that, as well as comparing the physical similarities. We admire the designer’s ability to create a metaphorical connection between two things that we may have never realised ourselves. It’s an almost childlike excitement towards a new and novel idea. According to Pang, ‘Some people thought it was strange that I was making things like that but I think there is a kid inside everybody’ (Winnif Pang: Design File, 2013).
Cracked Up, Winnif Pang
This can further be seen in his ‘Snack and Stack’ design for Fred & Friends (Fred & Friends, 2014), in which a spoon, knife and fork turn into Lego pieces, exuding playfulness and using its affordances to poetically read to users its large spectrum of intended use, including its quirky purpose as a fidgetable.
Snack and Stack, Winnif Pang
Similarly, Yuk Wang is another Hong Kong based designer who also contributes to Fred and Friends and is famous for his cute metaphorical homeware designs. This can be seen in his innovative kitchen sponge ‘scrubwich’, in which the playful connection between the formal spongy texture of bread and a sponge becomes evident. This is further explored in the packaging, as it comes in a brown cardboard container similar to that which we associate with take-away sandwiches from convenient stores, fueling our imagination and appreciation for its metaphorical cute communication, which we love to piece together. Yuk Wang’s original designs are readily available online at Fred and Friends.
Through poetic design, it becomes evident that avant-garde’s new 21st Century vessel is the quirky kitchen utensil. Sianna Ngai, a professor of English and author of Our Aesthetic Categories (Harvard University Press, 2012), describes zany objects as being ‘about commodities and consumption, the zany is about performing. Intensely affective and highly physical, it’s an aesthetic of nonstop action that bridges popular and avant-garde practice’ (Cabinet, 2011)
These zany homeware designs provide a continuous communication of novelty, which never seems to get old, perhaps due to being so ‘intensely affective’. They are comic, an exaggeration that gives that object its own personality and playful uniqueness which we crave as adults in our 21st century lives. We want to use them to feel a part of this playful subculture of poetic design, as they tell a much more interesting story than their black plastic and stainless steel counterparts. There is plenty funny about a colander, as long as it doesn’t look just like a colander, but instead something that embodies the poetic concept of minor aesthetics.