Understanding the SuperNormal

Understanding the supernormal

Understanding the SuperNormal

Is Simplicity Truly Minimal?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably entrenched in the world of design. If not, that’s even better, because today, I’m delving into a somewhat niche but profoundly significant topic: the SuperNormal.

I think it is not taken seriously enough, but I don’t mean to imply a lack of respect within the design community. It’s more about the fact that the SuperNormal concept hasn’t been officially recognized as a distinct movement. Perhaps it’s too recent for such categorization, but in my view, it’s high time we acknowledge its significance.

In our fast-paced era, events often appear as a continuous blur, making it challenging to step back and grasp their significance. I can understand why we might need time to truly define it, but this concept started germinating nearly two decades ago and is still evolving. In fact, it’s more impactful now than ever, which might also be why it’s on the brink of an intellectual battle.

The roots of the SuperNormal concept trace back to a moment of disillusionment experienced by Naoto Fukasawa. During the Milan fair, he observed people sitting on his new stool for Magis, called Déjà Vu, as if it were an ordinary service stool, missing its deeper design essence. His colleague, Jasper Morrison, however, saw the exceptional nature of this reaction. For those who comfortably used it without a second thought, the stool had achieved its true purpose. It was a SuperNormal product.

Naoto Fukasawa‘s Déjà-vu, edited by Magis

This realization gave birth to the “Super Normal” exhibition in 2006 in Tokyo. Morrison described it as a collection of objects that are “more discrete type, and mostly, though not inevitably, anonymously designed, outperform their counterparts with ease when it comes to long-term everyday use.”

The museum showcased objects that are now considered normal, but at their core, they had a subtle yet profound impact on people’s lives. These designs were not standard; they had a deeper, less conspicuous essence that later became the norm. Each object had that extra touch, albeit discreetly.

Super Normal exhibition in Tokyo (Axis Gallery)

Understanding how we arrived here and why I believe SuperNormal can’t be a rigid doctrine is vital.

Jasper Morrison’s journey into this extreme functionalism, colored by minimalism, was, in part, a reaction to the flamboyant and less functional Memphis movement. He shifted his focus toward an idea-based approach over poetic expression.

However, it’s crucial not to view Morrison’s work as mere rational functionalism, where form strictly follows function. To truly comprehend it, we need to backtrack in his career.

A pivotal phase in his evolution as a designer involved modifying the functions of existing objects. Tables made from plant pots or bike handlebars might have seemed like a necessity back then, but he saw functions in those shapes that others missed. When he transitioned to crafting new shapes, this experience naturally informed his approach, like his knob inspired by light bulbs.

By Jasper Morrison
By Jasper Morrison
By Jasper Morrison

What Morrison does with shapes is incredibly nuanced. I recall a story about him altering a table’s height by just one centimeter, and the entire perception of the table changed. Unfortunately, this approach is often misconstrued, leading to poorly executed imitations where the emphasis on function and simplicity lacks proportion and functionality.

So, when I say “fight the SuperNormal,” it’s a call for more profound contemplation. Emulate Morrison’s deep thinking. Chart your path without merely retracing established territories, because often, we follow rules without understanding why, falling into the trap of fragile design theories.

Morrison is not the only designer deserving of this deep understanding. In my next chapter (I don’t know when), I’ll explore Naoto Fukasawa’s perspective on SuperNormal, delving even deeper into this intriguing realm.

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