To describe something as ‘supernormal’ is in itself a paradox. How can an object be considered both super and normal, extra yet ordinary?
This adjective was coined by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison in an attempt to describe objects that pass “the test of the everyday.” Fukasawa and Morrison presented an exhibition celebrating 210 designed products/objects that do just that. On first glance these designs appear to be ordinary and when displayed in an exhibition context, pretty unstimulating. These are objects that have become invisible. Pieces of design that appear to be un-designed. Their complete normality is what makes them super normal.
Some items included in this exhibition are wastepaper baskets, chairs, a bicycle, glasses and various kitchen utensils. My favourite example of one such object, is described in their book, Super Normal: Sensations of the ordinary, where they describe a standard ashtray that has had all but one of its cigarette ‘rests’ removed. Smoking is a social event and the size of the ashtray implies shared use. So when sitting in a group of three and using the ashtray, it becomes apparent that something is amiss for the two who cannot rest their cigarettes. Whereas the smoker with access to the rest remains blissfully unaware of this.
It took me a while to really feel like I understood the concept of super normal, and at times I do have to re-question my own ability to assess super normal objects. Standing in my kitchen asking myself, “is this particular potato peeler the most normal of all the potato peelers?” I think this is because the act of being super normal is not just about how an object looks and acts, it’s about how it feels and what the experience tied to the object is. Objects perhaps only become super normal through their use and feel of natural familiarity.
To put aside ego when designing is no easy task. And Fukasawa and Morrison view this as a design philosophy. They ask designers “Why do so many objects fail the test of the everyday?” This is a call for designers to stop trying to wow, and to embrace the everyday in order to create designs that are truly iconic. So, what would a super normal hearing aid look like? This is one of the questions I am beginning to explore.
“Designers generally do not think to design the “ordinary.” If anything, they live in fear of people saying their designs are “nothing special.” Of course, undeniably, people do have an unconscious everyday sense of “normal,” but rather than try to blend in, the tendency for designers is to try to create “statement” or “stimulation.” So “normal” has come to mean “unstimulating” or “boring” design.” – Naoto Fukasawa
“The super normal object is the result of a long tradition of evolutionary advancement in the shape of everyday things, not attempting to break with the history of form but rather trying to summarise it, knowing it’s place in the society of things. Super normal is the artificial replacement for normal, which with time and understanding may become grafted to everyday life.” – Jasper Morrison
Super normal: Sensations of the Ordinary, Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison, Lars Muller Publishers, 2007.