Tuesday, 1 March 2011


When researching for my Master, I realized that rounded objects and shapes endlessly attracted me. Something visceral was going on but what exactly?

The book “Emotional Design” by Donald A. Norman (Basic Books, 2005) gives an interesting insight. His theory is that humans have powerful brain mechanisms for accomplishing things, for creating and for acting and that these human attributes “result from three different levels of the brain: the automatic prewired layer called the visceral level; the part that contains the brain processes that control everyday behaviour, known as the behavioural level; and the contemplative part of the brain or the reflective level.” The visceral level is “pre-consciousness, pre-thought… It is about the initial impact of a product, about its appearance, touch and feel”. The behavioural level is “about use, experience with a product.”… And “interpretation, understanding and reasoning come from the reflective level.” Each level plays a different role in the overall functioning of people. In his book, Norman shows that emotion and cognition work in tandem as we relate to products. He asserts that the emotional side of design is more critical than its practical elements and that attractive products work better.
We humans evolved to coexist in the environment of other humans, animals, plants, landscapes, weather and other natural phenomena” says Donald A Norman. “As a result, we are exquisitely tuned to receive powerful emotional signals from the environment that get interpreted automatically at the visceral level”. And as John Ruskin has written in “The seven lamps of architecture (Adamant Media Corporation, 2000): “all perfectly beautiful forms must be composed of curves; since there is hardly any common natural form in which it is possible to discover a straight line”. That is why I think that rounded and curvy shapes play at the visceral level and the reason might be as well, according to Natalie Augier (Woman: an intimate geography, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999) because the first thing we see when we are born is “our mother ‘s face…human faces are round”; or, “it may have all began with fruits…fruit is round”…or our “reverence for light? The sources of all light, the sun and the moon are round”?

But I had the confirmation that something was definitively happening with rounded shapes and objects when I read the last chapter of Gaston Bachelard’s book “The poetics of space” (Beacon Press,1994). This chapter is called “The phenomenology of roundness” and one has to pause here to understand what phenomenology means: “in its most basic form, phenomenology attempts to create conditions for the objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as judgments, perceptions, and emotions.”. (Wikipedia).

I this chapter, Bachelard is quoting
  •     Karl Jasper, a philosopher: “Every being seems in itself round”,
  •     Van Gogh a painter: “Life is probably round”,
  •     Joe Bousquet, a poet: “ He had been told that life was beautiful. No! Life is round
  •     and La Fontaine, an inventor of fables: “A walnut makes me quite round
to justify the interest for a phenomenological enquiry such as roundness. According to Bachelard, “such images bear the mark of primitivity […] and do not stem from any earlier experience.[…]. If we submit to the hypnotic power of such expressions, suddenly we find ourselves entirely in the roundness of this being”. 
So when Bachelard speaks about primitivity or hypnotic power, we are quite close from the emotional design of Donald A Norman. Bachelard states thateverything round invites a caress” or “images of full roundness help us to collect ourselves, permit us to confer an initial constitution on ourselves and to confirm our being intimately, inside”. And Bachelard writes about a poem from Rilke “in this rounded landscape, everything seems to be in repose. The round being propagates its roundness, together with the calm of all roundness”.

Therefore, theories about emotional design and phenomenology of roundness confirmed that rounded shapes and objects had a particular effect on human brain and that we might be viscerally attracted to them.

And this is why a category of objects called “Blobjects” fascinates me as I am convinced that this design concept is a perfect visual implementation of the “phenomenology of roundness” described by Bachelard.

But what is a Blobject ?
A Blobject is a design product, often a household object, distinguished by smooth flowing curves, bright colors, and an absence of sharp edges. The word […] is a contraction of "blob" and "object."
The origin of the term is disputed, but it is often attributed to either the designer-author Steven Skov Holt or the designer Karim Rashid. Author and design journalist Phil Patton attributed the word to Holt in 1993 in Esquire magazine”. (Wikipedia)

Cover of the book Blobjects & Beyond (Google Images)

Blobby objects of every kind were grouped for an exhibition in 2005 at the San Jose Museum of Art under the title: Blobjects & Beyond: the New Fluidity in Design. In the book accompanying the exhibition (Steven Skov Holt and Mara Holt Skov, Chronicle books, 2005) Holt describes a Blobject as a designed object that brings together several of the following qualities: “a pleasing plasticity of fluid form, a delicious sense of colour, a chance to exist at any scale, a heightened sense of flowing materiality and a powerful connection to our emotions, including a strong optimistic tendency”. According to him, a Blobject is “always inviting, it encourages touch and interaction and it responds with softness of form, material and experience”… 
Here are some everyday examples of Blobjects:

Philou Shampoo (Google Images)

Selfridges Birmingham (Google Images)

Lava Lamp (Google Images)

Volkswagen Beetle (Google Images)

Karim Rashid is one of the key figures of Blobject design and in his book “I want to change the world” (Univers , 2001) he defines his work as “soft, friendly organic forms communicating tactility and expressing a strong visual comfort and pleasure” and aims to create “products and furniture that must engage our emotional lives and increase the popular imagination and experience”.

Here are some visual examples of Karim Rashid’s Blobjects :

 Karim Rashid, Zontik Umbrella Stand

Karim Rashid, Orgy Sofa

 Karim Rashid, Blobulus Chair

I don’t know if this Blobulus Chair will change my life but I particularly like it as it seems to be a perfect illustration of Bachelard’s quote: “The round being propagates its roundness, together with the calm of all roundness”…And when I look at it, I really feel like curling up on it…

No comments:

Post a Comment