What makes a thing useful? From a strictly utilitarian standpoint, the existence of a function should be the predominant criterion. A steel screw, for example—which holds objects sturdily together and played an important role in industrial development—is the epitome of functionality. In contrast, a sea snail shell lying idly on the beach seems to lack any discernible function at all. Yet, its natural spirals look stunningly similar to the threads of a screw. Beautiful coincidence? Or has the “functionless” sea snail been onto something all along? It’s not difficult to see that many seemingly useless things in fact possess a huge amount of invisible value, be it aesthetic, cultural, intellectual or emotional. Between “useful” and “useless” lies a vast playground where we can unleash our imagination and creativity, and expand our understanding of design.
Many designs we are all too used to today are the result of human evolution and collaboration. When we look at a design, we’re only catching it at a particular point in time. However, its current shape and function is often the culmination of decades, centuries or even millenniums of development and adaptation, informed by history, aesthetics, culture, technology and customs. And as time goes on, it will keep morphing and evolving.
With “Use(fu)less” as its starting point, deTour 2021 sets out to create a space for discussion, experimentation and exhibition. Together, let’s reflect how “useful” designs respond to specific needs, and explore how “useless” designs can serve hidden—yet equally valuable—functions.