Abstract

Manufactured products are customarily made with materials having ‘perfect’ surface qualities, such as uniformity, flatness, glossiness, repetition etc. They are generally devoid of defects. Although the aesthetic of ‘material perfection’ prevails, this is not to say that alternative aesthetics based on ‘material imperfection’ are either irrelevant or undesirable. If we especially consider the pressing need to be more responsible about discarding ‘worn but still functioning’ products, alongside the satisfaction that can be gained from owning unique appearance products, then in principle there seems to be unexplored territory in ‘designing for desirable imperfection through materials’. This paper explores why and how imperfection in materials can be desirable. Literature sources are used to elaborate on the aesthetics of imperfection and the origins of material surface imperfections. Thereafter, graduate student design projects on the topic of ‘imperfection in product materials’ are presented, with their common attributes analysed so as to give advice to designers who may wish to adopt imperfect materials. The paper concludes that since material appraisals are highly contextual, designers must temper their ambitions towards material activism and user behaviour change by establishing boundaries beyond which material imperfection will be neither acceptable nor desirable.

Keywords:

Imperfection; Product Design; Materials; Values; Activism

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Jun 16th, 12:00 AM

Desirable Imperfection in Product Materials

Manufactured products are customarily made with materials having ‘perfect’ surface qualities, such as uniformity, flatness, glossiness, repetition etc. They are generally devoid of defects. Although the aesthetic of ‘material perfection’ prevails, this is not to say that alternative aesthetics based on ‘material imperfection’ are either irrelevant or undesirable. If we especially consider the pressing need to be more responsible about discarding ‘worn but still functioning’ products, alongside the satisfaction that can be gained from owning unique appearance products, then in principle there seems to be unexplored territory in ‘designing for desirable imperfection through materials’. This paper explores why and how imperfection in materials can be desirable. Literature sources are used to elaborate on the aesthetics of imperfection and the origins of material surface imperfections. Thereafter, graduate student design projects on the topic of ‘imperfection in product materials’ are presented, with their common attributes analysed so as to give advice to designers who may wish to adopt imperfect materials. The paper concludes that since material appraisals are highly contextual, designers must temper their ambitions towards material activism and user behaviour change by establishing boundaries beyond which material imperfection will be neither acceptable nor desirable.

 

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