Essays & Articles


Unusable Objects

Sometime in the late 1980s, while wandering around the bookstores of Paris, I came across a wonderful book, “Catalogue d’objets introuvables” by the artist Jacque Carelman. See the two images on the last row below. Recognize the “coffeepot for masochists”? I immediately bought as many copies of his books as I could find and the “Coffeepot for masochists” became the cover image for my book “Psychology of Everyday Things,” published in 1988 and since renamed as “Design of Everyday Things” (the illustration was used with Carelman’s permission, I hasten to add).

Photo legend: Various variations on the “coffeepot for masochists, terminating with the Italian Edition of Design of Everyday Things, where the publisher preferred the name of the coffeepot to the name I had given the book. So Italians know the book as “La caffettiera del masochista.

Since the, the design of unusable items has become a meme, or perhaps a fetish. The Japanese have especially excelled at this art: they call it “Chindogu: unuseless inventions.” See my essay on Chindogu.

You can search for other websites: they are numerous.  I was inspired to write this note because a colleague, Ken Forbus, from Northwestern University’s Computer Science Department, sent me the link to the “The uncomfortable” by the Greek architect Katerina Kamprani.