by Marisa Zemesarajs ’15
Everything around us is designed. This computer I’m typing on, the light bulbs that are illuminating my bedroom, my busted closet door knob, even the font on my shirt. Like the atoms and molecules that, in their own “world,” bear a cosmic significance so great on our lives, design, or the notion that every object we encounter is designed, is overlooked. It’s a science of its own, one that is at times too overwhelming to grasp, much like the unquantifiable amount of particles interacting at all times beyond the scope of our vision. The significance of design is underestimated, maybe also because we sometimes choose to shut out what isn’t immediately obvious to us, after all “people ignore design that ignores people.” Whether thinking about the politics associated with objectivity, or simply looking at this Chinese comb, which is a part of the collection here at the museum, design comes into play.
After spending my freshman year immersed in endless criticisms, analysis’, and renderings of design, I have come to understand this: It’s good when you don’t have to think twice about it, so to speak. Overall, things that are designed well should speak to their function themselves. The dials on your stovetop, for example, don’t exactly make the cut for “Design of the Year.” I’d like to think that I wasn’t the only one who struggled turning on the stove when I was little, but seriously, those four circles next to each dial aren’t effective and still require close examination before use. Now, this wooden Chinese comb, on the other hand, is a perfect example of a simple, yet conducive object. Pardon this oversimplified example, but If a martian came and picked up this comb, it would certainly question its function. Is it some utensil used for eating? Probably not, a little too awkward in that situation. For firewood? Eh, maybe, but the fine craftsmanship would suggest otherwise. After further questions like this, the martian would be able to gather that the comb would best be used as a device to draw out tangles or small particles out of hair or cloth.
It is objects like the comb, which speak to the genius of civilization, not a MacBook (hear me out.) While a laptop may assist us in tasks we could never even dream of accomplishing– things such as the ability to type in a phrase and receive millions of matches and connecting with friends across the globe, it isn’t necessarily valuable. If someone a couple thousand years from now picked one up off the ground, it is unlikely that they could figure out what it does, not to mention how to use it. You see, technology changes every day, obsolescing what came before. In the society we live in, simple objects, like a wooden comb provide better evidence of how we lived, because its function will always speak for itself. It is in simple objects that we also find the most comfort and nostalgic value– I doubt a television was ever an heirloom. While there may not be too much of interest to say about a comb, I think it’s important to look at everyday objects with a fresh perspective, thinking about the story they would tell thousands of years from today.