Jasper Morrison, Thingness and The Good Life

19th century irons

I made these drawings while visiting Jasper Morrison’s Thingness at The Design Museum in Zurich. When I was looking at these funnels and 19th century irons, in the back of my mind I was wondering, why are we so keen on classifying and organizing everything?

Thingness is a treat to visit. The exhibit is more than a collection of objects designed by Mr Morrison, it also documents his influences, processes, and the stories behind the design. The show is divided into two sections. The first is a retrospective selection of projects starting from the eighties, along with some images from The Good Life, a project Morrison has been cultivating for a number of years and is the result of his obsessive need to document ordinary and yet, for some reason, fascinating objects and situations, “clever solutions to everyday problems solved with modest resources”.  The second part is titled My Collection and presents pieces chosen by Morrison from the vast collection of the Design Museum.

Thingness gives us the opportunity to peek into the mind of a designer whose esthetic is quiet, calm and refreshing. One of my favorite Morrison designs is “Thinking Man’s Chair”, which was originally to be called “The Drinking Man’s Chair”.

For a long time after I noticed an antique chair with its seat missing outside a shop I had the idea to do a chair consisting only of structural elements. Many sketches later I arrived at the approximation of the final shape, which included two small tables on the ends of the arms and an exotic assembly of curved metalwork. It was to be called “The Drinking Man’s Chair”.  On my way back from the tobacconist’s shop with a packet of pipe cleaners to make a model of the chair with, I noticed the slogan “The Thinking Man’s Smoke” on the packet, which I quickly adapted as a more sophisticated title.

 from the Visitor’s Guide

Thinking Man's Chair
Thinking Man’s Chair, Capellini, 1986

A couple of books accompany the show. Two that caught my eye were A book of Things and The Good Life, both beautifully crafted and published by Lars Müller Publications. In A Book of Things I found a hilarious story about an exhibition Morrison prepared for the Musée des Art Décoratifs Bordeaux, where he was allowed to place objects he had designed alongside seventeenth and eighteen century items.

It was a game which culminated in two days of infiltrating and blending the old with the new, adjusting the atmosphere of each room in as light a way as possible. It was an extremely pleasurable experience, recognizing as I worked on it that I was alongside my professional ancestors and how little the basic goal of making good atmosphere has changed. To my senses the new helped the old and vice versa. The Friends of the Museum were not so happy with the idea but following the tour of the exhibition some of them had not noticed the aliens in their midst! Later on it became popular with school groups to find the fakes.

Jasper Morrison, A book of Things


The Ordinary

I like the fact that the world is a very strange place, but I also like the fact that even the most boring places can be quite interesting. So, part of my job is to see extraordinary in a very ordinary.

Martin Parr Think of Finland

Once you look at what seems ordinary long enough, though, it often turns odd and unfamiliar, as any child repeatedly saying his own name aloud learns.

(And so I try it! horowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitzhorowitz … and my last name becomes a pulsing, throbbing vowel-crushing machine.)

Alexandra Horowitz On Looking

One popular American guidebook, The Laws of Etiquette; or, Short Rules and Reflections for Conduct in Society, informed readers that they ‘may wipe their lips on the tablecloth, but not blow their noses with it’. Another solemnly reminded readers that it was not polite in refined circles to smell a piece of meat while it was on one’s fork. It also explained: ‘The ordinary custom among well-bred persons is as follows: soup is taken with a spoon.’

Bill Bryson At Home

If you just take a door of your house and you open the door but you don’t exit, you open the door, but you don’t  enter. You just keep opening and closing the door for fifteen, twenty minutes. If you go to three hours the door is not the door anymore, the door transcends into something completely different. When you’re doing something long durational … you come to the state of boredom … if you’re really in the present the time doesn’t exist.

Marina Abramović (The New Yorker Festival)

Look and See

To observe, you must learn to separate situation from interpretation, yourself from what you’re seeing. (…)

Choosing wisely means being selective. It means not only looking but looking properly with real thought. It means looking with a real knowledge that what you note – and how you note it – will form the basis of any future deductions you might make. It’s about seeing the full picture, noting the details that matter, and understanding how to contextualize those details within a broader framework of thought. (…)

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova

The power we have as designers is that we are generalists. Designers have the ability to see systems and patterns.

Cheryl Heller

Designers need to make connections and see the overall picture. When you’re able to assess information and anticipate future impacts, objectively, you can see and understand the whole picture.

Maggie Macnab