Contemplations on the NONOBJECT book

The NONOBJECT book attempts to explain the user-object relationship, and here's why I believe every designer should read this book.

Up until now my journal only received sporadical updates, usually during vacations or in periods where I’ve had time to spare. My ambitions of quality shared little compatibility with my (lack of) spare time as a master student. Excuses aside – as part of a new effort to share my thoughts I’m kicking it off with a piece I wrote on the NONOBJECT book. It’s not a review, but rather a contemplation of the essence.

 

Introduction

The NONOBJECT book attempts to explain the mysterious space between user and object, and how it affects our experience with designed artifacts. The relationship is an intangible one, and because of this abstract nature designers often overlook this integral part of the design. More so, designers often wait for this ‘secret sauce’ to simply develop by merely solving the problems and fulfilling the design criteria. NONOBJECT claims that this connection is not an elusive side effect, but a designed factor in it self. To explain this relationship, Branko shows examples of objects that embody the concept of NONOBJECT.

nonobject02©NONOBJECT

At first, the proposed objects might seem arbitrary and conceptual. Skeptics surely raise their eyebrows in response to the fictious material Thinium. But these skeptics receive a fatal blow with the retrospective contemplation around synthetic materials. Imagining a world without plastics today is as foreign as the notion of making a spaceship out of carbon fiber back then. Sure, the discovery of carbon fiber and the likes were done in a lab – most likely by engineers, but the concept of such a material was thought out long before it came into existence. Like carbon fiber, we will look back in twenty years and think; of course Thinium(and its sister materials) exists, why would it not?

Learning from this, we are forced to take the undiscovered future seriously, because no one wants to rob ourselves from it. We owe it to ourselves to ponder about the potential magnificence of our seemingly absurd future. On a larger scale, Thinium is not a story about a material, it is a mental manifestation of the future. It presents a notion of when, not if.

So what exactly is the NONOBJECT?

What is often referred to as a mysterious force between the user and the object, is often the story of the object. And it is through this story that the purpose of the object is defined and an emotional connection is created. Simon Sinek presents an interesting take on this matter in his TED talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’. Applying his logics, NONOBJECT describes not the what the designer has made, or how he has made it. What is relevant is why the object exists at all.

Take the Paleoware for example. It is a straight forward narrative of human evolution, encapsulated in a physical object.

Paleoware-Timeline-CMYKThe Paleoware ©NONOBJECT

It is not a question of what it is. Its material is not even defined. Nor is it a question of how it was made. We wouldn’t know because the production method is not mentioned. What really matters is why. Why was it created in the first place? The purpose is its strong narrative. It is a living testament of our evolution, and through a simple shape it tells the history of thousands of years. To some, this information is trivial. I see it as a story of what has been, but also a springboard to where we go next.

Why is the concept of NONOBJECT important?

NONOBJECT deals with an integral part of product design that is often overlooked. It acknowledges the purpose of the object, and how it affects the user.

Furthermore, the book shows the importance of contemplation and imagination. It provides room for a child-like approach to design, free of constraints, by encouraging questions of why and what if. It recognizes the value of applied philosophy in design by fighting off realists bound to the shackles of todays limitations, and to ultimately create meaningful connections with the users.

taratiTarati Touchless Phone ©NONOBJECT

Another important aspect of NONOBJECT is behavior. Specific objects induce specific behaviors, apparent in Enlighten Switch or the Rectilinear Elegance cutlery. As a designer, you are in charge of this behavior. We define the relationship between user and object. This is apparent in the Tarati Touchless phone. No longer do you rest your finger on the surface of the object, but you pass through it. By changing the object you are also changing the behavior. By changing the object, you are changing the NONOBJECT – and vice versa.

Whether the objects presented in this book is the actual face of the future is not really important. What is important is the mental exercise of looking into the crystal ball.

Fight against entropy

In the chapter of the Pebble Media Player, Branko claims that we have lost our connection to nature. With the introduction of manufactured objects, we have eliminated the aspect of variation and uniqueness. The superior goal of manufactured objects is their consistency – ensuring a predictable outcome. This critique might be valid in comparison to the randomness of nature, but in terms of human behavior, manufacturing is a blessing. It is embedded in human nature to fight entropy and gain control for a predictable future. This allows us to plan for survival, which is why human beings love order and gravitate towards security. That being said, the paradigms of randomness and order are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the Pebble media player embodies the synergy of randomness and order.

nonobject_2007-1_0The Pebble Audio Player ©NONOBJECT

The pebble media player – as natural and random as it might seem is still an object of order. The aesthetics and form might vary, but it does so within defined constraints. These constraints are there to serve the purpose of a media player, and to do so it must perform a series of function all of which has its requirements. The shape is still reminiscent of a closed palm to ensure usability. This is why it still has a screen to communicate with the user.

If you were to embrace entropy whole heartedly, the pebble media player would perhaps be grains of sand in your hand, completely moldable to fit your hand with each grain having the components of a media player, much like a cell having all of the essential functions of your body. This would allow infinite variations of scale and form.

From my perspective, the intangible space between user and object lies in this intersection of randomness and order, much like what nature provides. We seek nature for the adventurous expectation of discovering something new, but we are also attracted to it because it provides us with the expected and familiar. Innate, in that sense. I love the unexpectedness of nature, but I also seek it for the familiar soothing framework that it provides.

In conclusion, the book displays a philosophical approach to design recognizing that there are factors that might not be palpable in the traditional sense of design. It is a contemplative study of the current world, and also where it might go in the future. It describes properties of objects that extends further than the form and aesthetics. Common for all the proposed products – be it the Love Helmet, the Superpractial Cell Phone or the Remote Control Book – is that they all possess a strong story. The story creates emotional connection between users and objects. These NONOBJECTS might not be acceptable for all because they outline a future that might be hard to grasp, but that just makes them all the more important.