Beauty in imperfectionby Cornelius Blank on 07/10/2012
There is this really nice little film about a guy who owns a gorgeous 300L Mercedes Gullwing. Rather than store this rare and expensive car away in a hermetically sealed garage he frequently takes his out for a drive, saying it would be a shame not to use it.
There is something beautiful about an owner enjoying his prized possession so thoroughly, accepting the inevitable minor damage and wear unconcerned about the resale value – who’s counting right?
As a culture we fetishise the new. Like magpies we are drawn towards the shiny, the perfect and untouched. We get a rush as we unwrap the newly acquired, so-much-so ‘Unboxing’ has become a whole category in itself on Youtube. Once opened we either avoid using it to preserve it’s newness just that little bit longer or pull off the protective film and nervously wait for that inevitable first scratch.
Worn-in or worn-out
The reality is that objects are only new for a fleeting moment and spend the greater part of their existence used. They get scratched, scuffed, knocked, dropped and worn. How an object responds to being used is dependent on it’s design. Does it become worse for wear or age gracefully and adapt to our use.
If designed accordingly this wear can add depth and character to an object, increasing rather than diminishing its value. It builds up a patina of use as each battle scar tells a little story. Most of us welcome this breaking in as it builds up a unique look that can be aesthetically pleasing. The japanese have a word for this, Wabi-Sabi. Sometimes difficult to grasp in our western way of thinking, It is an aesthetic concept that embraces the imperfect, appreciates impermanence and sees beauty in entropy. The well worn pair of jeans, a moss covered statue, a lightly tarnished teapot. Often described as rustic or folksy this is only a superficial explanation of what is a much deeper concept. The way I see it its a way of enjoying the things that surround us by accepting and appreciating their transient nature. Or in other words, the zen of things.
So what is it that allows an object to age with grace? An appropriate and honest use of materials, quality craftsmanship and simplicity are certainly at the top of the list. Deception doesn’t cut it as it’s destined to fade away and reveal the true nature of things. Painted chrome soon flakes off exposing the blunt plastic underneath whereas real metals tarnish to a pleasing finish. Fake leather quickly becomes brittle and hard rather than soft and moulded.
Wear is authentic and beautiful. As designers we should put more thought in to how the objects we create will respond to being used and abused over time. And – if we get it right – this can be a long time indeed.