A chair to look to the moon; what we can learn from irrational design history for contemporary design practice

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The focus of product design is shifting from primarily offering functionality, towards experience and emotion driven product characteristics. The mantra of the universal design-language, within which, according to the good old modernist movement the shape of a product is directly derived from the (technical) functionality, is not very useful anymore. Consequently the contemporary designer has to look for other ways to fill his or her repertoire. That this experience and emotion driven approach to products is not new, is shown by an example of a Chinese Ming-period reclining chair that is not referred to as a reclining chair but as “a chair to look to the moon”. Also during the history of industrial product design there are numerous examples of designers and designs contradicting the dominant modernist/functionalist approach. So it is interesting to analyze how designers have used this non-rational approach through time. In this way, principles, methods or work-a-rounds for contemporary design problems are derived. This paper focuses on the period from circa 1990 to 2000, because at that time, the emotional orientation of the ‘irrational’ post-modernist designs is more and more connected with the function of products. Therefore interesting combinations of recognizable meanings and, for instance, new materials arise. Many products in this period do not stand out with their functional usability, but with the intelligibility of the idea behind it. The Netherlands are playing an important role in this development with the Droog label. This study tries to visualize how interesting approaches and principles of this merely author-driven design practice can enrich the demand-driven design projects of industrial design engineers in our highly emotion-oriented environment nowadays.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-114
JournalDesign principles and practices
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Demand Driven Design
  • Design History
  • Non-Rational Design
  • Design and Emotion
  • Author Driven Design
  • IR-78412
  • Irrational Design
  • METIS-262714


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