Physical Fidgets.

“Stop fidgeting,” said every parent ever. But should you really?

An exploration of Grace Handcock’s designed objects that promote and enable fidgeting.

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Reading a love letter from a glass bottle that has travelled the seas by candle light; or receiving an instant message or phone call from a loved one in your fully lit apartment?

In the digital world I find myself wondering; what would it have been like to live without technology? As I write this and I’m sure as you read it your phone is on the desk next to you or maybe in your hand, you are reading off a laptop or tablet device and your room is illuminated by artificial light, with a flick of a switch a light bulb is on. I often find myself pondering how my life would be different if I could not send an instant message to my friends and receive a response almost immediately and how my life would be changed if whilst I was overseas I could not have instant contact back home through email, Facebook or Skype. Same goes for electricity, in what ways would my life be different if creating light wasn’t just a flick of a switch but rather lighting multiple candles to achieve a warm glow of light during the evening. I know what you are all thinking, we take this kind of technology for granted everyday and it is impossible not to engage with it on some level, as people develop new technologies we are powerless to stop it being implemented into our daily lives, even if we do not let it directly…

Two designers that are acknowledging this pondering of the past as we are surrounded by technology are, Japanese designer Saburo Sakata, and American conceptual artist and electrical engineer Scott Amron. Both approach this concept differently but I feel both capture the merging of past and present to create truly beautiful, new technological designs.

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Sakata’s series of stationary that includes the USB drive titled ‘Blank’ is a digital reincarnation of the romantic message-in-a-bottle. The minimalist USB drive and case made from cork and glass captures the past through using the very thing that was used as a method of communication across the seas but with a modern twist. A sailor writes a heart-felt letter to his lover as his boat drifts in the ocean, no land in sight, he corks it and throws it into the water with hope that the currents will carry his words and love back to her. ‘Blank’ in essence is the same concept (but perhaps not as romantic), messages, words or images concealed within a bottle, Sakata has brought this into the modern, digital world through the USB. He is also reminding us of the possibilities that a blank USB holds, what we can create is a separate area for our thoughts and documents that can be moved around freely and travel with or without us or our laptop. Much like the message in a bottle, that travels with the currents.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 1.48.43 PM  This concept also got me thinking of the number of USB drives I have misplaced during my time at university. How many I have left in computers or that have fallen out of my bag. I wonder if someone found them, plugged them into their computer and saw my documents and looked at my assessments or watched the TV series I had saved on their or the music I had gotten off a friend. A USB, be it one that is blank or filled with files contains endless possibilities and can hold quite an amount of someone’s life, thus I think it is extremely fitting that Sakata merged the modern USB with the past’s message-in-a-bottle.

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 Amron has also achieved this merging of past and present with his take on the desk lamp or perhaps just lighting in general with his design entitled ‘Candull’. ‘Candull’ is essentially a desk lamp but Amron replaces the light bulb with a low-tech equally as functional candle. Amron has adapted the candle for the modern context with a screw in base enabling it to be screwed into a desk lamp just like the modern light bulb. This design is a fusion of past and present with the merging of a modern desk lamp and a somewhat stone age form of light, fire. ‘Candull’ also brings an approach to energy efficiency and the consumption of electricity within the home, removing the energy entirely from a lamp and replacing it with a dash of wit, a dash of fire. This play on past and present is extremely effective, although in my opinion not as effective as Sakata’s ‘Blank’ USB. Perhaps this is because of the story one is able to create with the message-in-the-bottle ties. Or perhaps it is because I can envision myself carrying my ‘Blank’ USB around university however cannot see myself sitting down to read with a single candle as my source of light.

Both these designs bring together elements of the past into the modern world, they are an amalgamation of past and present allowing us to reconnect with the past within this extremely digital and technological driven society. So as I finish writing this and you finish reading, I will most likely continue to ponder how my life would be different without technology and what it would have been like for those people hoping a message-in-a-bottle would reach a loved one, or using any number of candles to create light. But I guess one cannot miss what they’ve never had, right?


Brassica Oleracea Capitata, a bowl.

Layers of cabbage leaves peeled back reveal the many poetic layers of Yasuhiro Suzuki’s paper bowl design.

 How many things can be transferred to metaphorically capture the essence of a paper bowl? For Japanese designer Yasuhiro Suzuki a cabbage head afforded many similarities, and as one looks at the layers of cabbage, one will see the layers of poetics within this redesign to create the cabbage leaf bowls. Suzuki who graduated from Tokyo Zokei University in 2001 is constantly blurring the lines between art, design and everyday objects within his works. His 2004 Cabbage bowls is a unique example of this.

Suzuki 2004
Suzuki 2004


Suzuki’s cabbage bowls are created directly from a real cabbage leaf that is coated in white paper clay and once dry, peeled off to reveal a perfect imitation (Suzuki 2004). It is the level of detail of each cabbage leaf created using this method that makes this metaphorical design so impressive. Through this process Suzuki has taken the everyday paper bowl and transformed it into a thing of beauty, whilst still leaving the essence of a paper bowl and its simple ability to hold. The paper cabbage leaf is described as ‘just as pliable as a real cabbage leaf’ with each leaf becoming a dish and the putting together of these ‘dishes’ creates a head of cabbage(Suzuki 2004). This putting together of the cabbage dishes enables another layer of this design to be peeled away as ‘traditional’ paper bowls are able to be stacked together and stored as a single unit, much like a cabbage is a single unit until the leaves are peeled away.


Suzuki 2004


The inspiration or moment when Suzuki realised a cabbage leaf mimics a bowl was as he saw ‘water droplets pool on the leaves and recognised that there is a ‘dish’ originally hidden in cabbages’. Suzuki also alludes to the notion that the cabbage head was ‘designed’ through developing varieties of the crops that could be conveniently grown and used in cooking. This concept that the cabbage has been designed within its natural form prompted a Google search ‘the history of cabbage’ which revealed that the intricate and tightly layered cabbage heads that are available in the supermarkets are far from the original loose leaf wild cabbage. These heads of cabbage have been manipulated or designed within agriculture using ‘horticultural selection’ during the farming, to enable it be grown with more dense and tightly layered leaves (Christman 2003). Suzuki believes this redesign of the wild cabbage makes sense when one looks at how easily the leaves can be layered over.

Wild Cabbage vs Designed Cabbage
Christman 2003


This notion that the cabbage head itself has been designed and manipulated to hold more layers allows more of Suzuki’s design thoughts to be revealed. The similarities between a cabbage and a bowl become more evident; both can be stacked together in layers; both can hold; and both are disposable in their different forms. The direct mimicking of a cabbage leaf using paper clay further captures the disposability of a normal paper bowl, however gives it a more defined permanence as one would be less likely to waste or even use Suzuki’s paper bowls due to the beauty engrained in their design. Adding value to the everyday object through a distinct redesign, enhanced using extreme detailing. This made me wonder what other objects could be painted with paper clay and set to create another redesigned poetic paper bowl? An onion? A Babushka doll? Both of these capture the essence of layering and stacking much like Suzuki’s cabbage heads, but would they be as effective?

Similarly, another object that uses specific detailing to add value to an everyday object is embossed paper towel developed by architect Kengo Kuma.


The basis of his design is simple by embossing the everyday object paper towel with a snake skin design this adds a level of value to what is always seen as functional not aesthetic, extremely disposable. It is the small details and essence of beauty that moves this everyday object into the realm of a poetic object. Could people be less inclined to use paper towel or waste it because it employs a small, nuance of value achieved through embossing?

Suzuki’s redesign of a paper bowl in the form of a cabbage leaf that can be stacked and layered together like a packet of paper bowls to form a single cabbage head, is extremely metaphorical within its layers of thoughts. This design brings the natural bowl shape of a cabbage leaf into the permanence of an everyday object, the bowl. Suzuki gives beauty and new meaning to an everyday object and thus imposes a level of permanence to a usually disposable object. Would you think twice before wasting one of Yasuhiro Suzuki’s Cabbage Bowls?


Suzuki 2004


Further reading on paper in design – Schmidt, P. & Stattmann, N. 2009. Unfolded: Paper in Design, Art, Architecture & Industry, Birkhauser Verlag AG.