The Useless Machine is a series of blogs documenting the process of designers Jolijn Friederichs, Rowan Verbraak and myself.
In contrast to the corporate and serious projects that fill our day-to-day life, we needed a project that was more playful and open. Something that tickles our sense of humour and fills us with joy. Our inner rebel wanted to design against the status quo. That idea quickly turned into a stance against solutionism or, in other words, designing for uselessness.
The more we encounter this status quo the more rebellious we become. To us, irony is a strong medium to challenge beliefs and crack their foundation. Humour and surprise tend to make an audience more accepting of other perspectives and create a more critical attitude. A Useless Machine is an object that is designed to be fun, critical and, obviously, ironic.
Our heads were full of ideas and directions, so we decided to put all of these on a whiteboard (aka ‘every-designer-BFF’) and see where this could take us. Interestingly enough, our writings and scribbles caught people’s attention and they provided us with more inspiration and got the useless discourse going.
One of the directions that stood out was that of disobedience, i.e., in the context of everyday functional products behaving in completely unexpected ways and how that could embody in a personality. For example, the chair that flees when you approach it, or the laddering Alexa that keeps on asking why, why, why, why...
In order not to dwell in this phase, we decided to go and buy different pre-existing products so we could hack them, and play with their functions. We wanted to start experimenting with the idea of bringing an object to life and what kind of personality it could get. It turns out, that this process is very fluid and things fell into place very easily.
The abundance of materials available allowed us to play around and get our creative juices flowing until we ended up with Expedition Kill All Planets (EKAP): a collection of objects that unexpectedly collaborate in destroying the environment, with a specific aesthetic in mind. You thought your documentation was unique? Well we made a stop motion video of EKAP and we had the most fun.
We argue that a designer should occasionally rebel, be weird, have fun, and play. Already back in 1938, Johan Huizinga described us as ‘the Homo Ludens’: we as human beings intrinsically need playfulness. According to him, this is a crucial element to the forming and development of culture..
In our solutionist society, play is sometimes undervalued and often frowned upon. Everything tends to exist in order to aid the achievement of a goal and reach its perfect state. We call forth the Useless Machine to ‘destroy’ this society and fight against this status quo! By using the elements of surprise and humour, we can inspire others to pursue their own rebellion. And if people don’t get it, or don’t laugh, then at least we had fun designing and creating - and that is worth something, right?