“Dual purpose” can be somewhat of a dirty word in the design industry. Frequently conjuring up images of nonsensical late night shopping channel adverts and baffling design hybrids, take, for instance, Thirst Aid’s Beer Hat. A globally recognised drinking cap, symbolic of sports fans, fraternity high-jinks and stag weekends, the functionality of this dual purpose object perfectly embodies man’s respect for lager on sunny days. So great is the devotion that he may honour it by consuming the sacred fluid from a tin strapped to either side of his head, where it becomes tepid and flat. Functionality, yes, but only if you like your beer to taste like stale dishwater and your scalp to sweat beneath a layer of uncompromising moulded plastic.
Jon Harrison’s collection of dual purpose objects bucks this trend of ceasing to accurately address practical design issues within the aforementioned genre. One quarter of the newly-formed Assembly studio, he recently graduated from the RCA, London, with a fascinatingly direct portfolio and a startlingly human appreciation of the everyday problems that designers create for us. Where some objects seek to join two unrelated functions and others connect related purposes but in the process become ineffective for either, what Harrison describes as “double products” mostly succeed in allowing the user to complete a task in a simpler way.
A personal favourite is the paint tin opener and brush, a modified paint brush that has a flat strip of metal inserted into the body. Designed so as not to interrupt the contours of the traditional wooden handle, the strip renders the need for a flat head screwdriver redundant and neither functions are impaired. Similarly, the Post-It note pencil holder relieves users of the frustration of searching for a pencil to scribble a message by providing a hole drilled through the block of notelets in which a pencil is placed.
This clarity is also present in Mugs, Jugs and Sugar Bowls; a collection of just that. Each a uniform shape, complete with handle and lid if necessary, the user can carry four of any vessel at once hence solving the problem of serving several cups of coffee to a busy studio without using a tray or approximating individuals’ tastes in milk and sugar. I can’t help but think that the embarrassment of every intern who forgets how the editor takes his or her tea could be saved with a set like this.
Although not obviously stylised or carrying a brand mark, Harrison’s simple observations and modifications add a truer, more basic value to objects, distancing them from the current demand for items that exist for status and not much else. His hands-on system of working is also beautifully literal; ideas are quickly lifted from the sketchbook, prototyped and amended in Assembly’s crude workspace. The studio as a whole promises to prove a worthwhile “one to watch,” already having a successful redesign of London-based A Practice For Everyday Life’s headquarters under their belts. As predictions for 2010’s next big thing come pouring in, my confidence lies in the age-old mantra, “form follows function,” and my bets are hedged on Assembly leading the revolt, one dual purpose object at a time.
Text FABIAN L JAMES
Photography NATHAN WILLOCK: http://www.nathanwillock.com/