Fumiko How would you both define Super Normal?
Jasper My opinion is that the design world has drifted away from normality; it has forgotten its roots and the basic notion that we designers are supposed to take care of the man-made environment and try to improve it. Super Normal is a bridge between the two worlds, an attempt to reunite them. It’s not easy to write a formula for the Super Normal object, and I’m not sure it can even be planned. An object becomes Super Normal through use. As designers we can aim at achieving the Super Normal by being less concerned with the visual aspects of an object’s character, and by attempting to anticipate the object’s likely impact on the atmosphere and how it will be to live with.
Naoto I think it’s probably fairly easy to understand the things or situations that come under the heading Super Normal. One category is when you look at something normal and say, “That’s really normal”; these are the things that have permeated daily life, things in which we don’t find any element of design. Another is a new design that takes the essence of something that everyone recognises and perceives as normal. When people look at these things, their expectation of seeing something that has been “designed” is somewhat betrayed, and they come out with things like “That’s so normal” and “Why is it so… normal?!” With this kind of comment, what’s being expressed is the perfect meshing with the original normal object, and we’re reminded that perhaps the continuation of a good relationship that has been around for a long time is better than anticipating something new. I think the meaning of Super Normal may be in the moment this hits us.
Fumiko The exhibition includes many anonymously designed articles of daily life. In what way are these objects Super Normal and is there a difference between them and the authored designs?
Naoto The term anonymous can mean that the creator is unknown; I also think it includes the nuance whereby you don’t feel that the creator is trying to “design” or “express himself”. The things we chose as anonymously Super Normal were objects that are used on a daily basis to the point that they become invisible, things we knew inside out; things that slipped by us and actually appeared to be rather ugly when we tried to find the element of design in them. Looking at it this way, you realise just how important the visual element is when looking at design; finding things that are anonymously Super Normal means that you are looking at the feel of a thing, at the relationship that has been built up around its shape. I think it’s a bit like feeling with other senses even though you’re looking at it with your eyes. When I looked at the box cutter, at first I thought that the simple thin stainless steel cutter was Super Normal, but when I looked at the old one next to it covered in plastic, I thought, “Ah, THAT’S Super Normal”. The stainless steel cutter was still chosen with an eye to design; the sense of having been long-used was revived by the plastic-covered one, and realising this it was chosen as Super Normal. This was the moment when I realised my own view of Super Normal was shaky. But I was blown away when I found that plastic cutter. I felt like I’d become free, that I’d thrown off the heavy mantle of design.
Jasper I agree. Sometimes, when you’re using something, there is a moment when you suddenly realise that it’s Super Normal. It definitely goes beyond seeing, and into a more interesting area of using and experiencing. I think you could also say that an anonymous object whose designer is unkown and an object which is designed without the usual quota of creative ego or expression, are both closely related but nevertheless separated by a fine line. In the case of the unknown author, he or she designs totally anonymously, while the designer who chooses to avoid or limit personal creative expression, designs conscious of the fact that his name will be on the product. Super Normal is more common in the world of totally anonymously designed things; I think we realised this quite clearly while making our selections for the exhibition. But it is also possible in the world of designer signatures, and I think we would agree that it’s not only preferable but that it also seems to offer a whole new world to design, as you say, free of the mantle of “Design”.