Study Models: HF06 + 07
Published: Oct 2019
In the field of psychology, a condition – ‘Categorical Inflexibility’, characterised as being unable to see beyond the possibilities defined by one’s memory, exists. In this condition, socially learnt representations of objects constrain our ability to think about them in other creative ways. In Gestalt psychology, a similar concept – ‘Functional Fixedness’, exists. This condition is characterised as a cognitive bias or mental block that limits a person to use an object only in a way that it has been traditionally used. Let’s take using a box as an example – one might not be able to see beyond what a box could do other than its original usage of containment.

In our practice, we see this mental block as a form of connection between an object and its users. By creating or inspiring actions that could temporarily disconnect this connection, we will perhaps be able to see beyond the object’s original function, and to uncover hidden possibilities.

We first ask ourselves, can we temporarily disconnect such connections? If so, how can we do it? We begin by considering the permanence of such connections. By consciously subtracting the fact that all connections are fixed and by breaking this perception, new mental spaces are created. Such mental spaces allow room for imagination, as we can temporarily disregard an object’s key function.

A Lego block is one such example – the original form of a block is able to transit between being a standalone piece, and part of a greater whole through a temporal of system of joining and breaking. New mental spaces that allow room for imagination are created. Although we visualize a Lego block in its absolute form of a cube, cuboid, trapezium and cylinder, we are never limited by what these blocks can become. As such, one’s imagination of an object is not only affected by how we are connected to it, but also, how else that object can be connected to other objects.

We then ask ourselves – how can we join things to gain form differently? How permanently are they or should they be joined? What will happen if we try to gain form without any physical connection or joining? Are we able to form an object without adhesive or permanent joinery? These questions served as a starting point from which we explored such possibilities. Though it might seem like we are deconstructing a form here, it is actually quite different – we are simply breaking the form apart differently, whilst staying true overall, to its original configuration. HF 06 and 07 (refer to Fig. A) are two study models where we explore such possibilities.

HF06 and 07 are made-on-demand furniture systems developed to function in small spaces, and were created as part of a branding and strategy exercise for a metal fabrication company. We first began by reconsidering how else metal can be joined other than through permanent welding. Both study models originated from the basic form of a cube. We started by breaking various joints, in search of a new way to assemble a cube (refer Fig. B). HF06 (refer to Fig. C) is an attempt to form a cube by having a flexible joinery system, allowing not just the function of joining, but also that of passing through (refer to Fig. D).

The flexibility of passing through allows for movement and new ports of connectivity — an open joint. With this, a cube is no longer just a cube, as we can now allow the function of joining to extend beyond the original form of a cube. This creates mental spaces for new ideas and structures that do not have to conform strictly to the form of the cube (refer to Figs. E, F & G), to be born. The principle of design for an open joint is to allow the disconnection of an object’s function fixedness by creating new opportunities in connectivity.

HF07 is an attempt to temporarily break the form of a cube by introducing the principle of displacement (refer to Fig. H). Instead of trying to break the cube at its usual joints, we decided to break the cube in half, after which, a new way of connecting the form using a dowel-like ‘joining tool’ was introduced (refer to Fig. I). This allows the cube to be free from its initial principles of joinery. The result is an open form, in this case, a displaced cube – one that doesn’t join, unless a ‘joining tool’ is used.

A ‘rule of halves’ is then introduced to HF07 so that we can now think of new ways to form structures only with half a cube – assembling new forms through rotating and stacking of a displaced cube (refer to Figs. J, K & L). The disruption of functional fixedness in this case creates more mental spaces through the introduction of additional joints. The displacement of the regular cube allows the standard four joints to be increased into eight, multiplying the possibilities of resulting forms or structures.

Both the study models are attempts to allow users to expand their imagination across the different scales of design, by disconnecting any old connections (functional fixedness) they have towards a form. This does not only affect the end user, but allows designers to design freely, across different scales.

In our practice, the concept of ‘designing freely’ is the ability to move between scales — beyond the confines of disciplines. Design is guided by principles, and having a principle of design allows one to move between scales and disciplines and still speak the same language. If we can look beyond disciplines, we can naturally cross mediums in design. Hyperfunction enables us to achieve that.

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