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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

The Meaningful Object

Art Review

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   "New Intersections: Form and Meaning in Design," the current exhibit in the Brooks Stevens Gallery at MIAD is, as it intends to be, completely fun and very provocative. As consumers, we may not always understand the aim of product design when we're shopping for everyday objects like toothbrushes and potato peelers, but on some level we do understand what attracts us to a product. Browsing the products here, carefully displayed behind glass, the viewer (outside this setting, a consumer) is confronted by a slightly uneasy awareness of his or her own susceptibility to the various aspects of design. It's a fascinating look at product design as it directly impacts consumer behavior. The viewer walks away feeling a little bit smarter, maybe even a savvier consumer.

  Broadly covering six different approaches to product design, the exhibit highlights items from the 1930s through the present day. While some objects on display, like the Sanyo Phonosphere (a '70s record player shaped like a ball), stand out as remarkable and unusual design examples, most seem less obvious-at least at first. The bulk of the objects are very familiar household items -blenders, irons, telephones, kitchen gadgets-which is what makes the exhibit fun. What makes it so compelling is the viewer's epiphany about the features of these objects, and how they fit into the six approaches presented. Here, a humble display of toothbrushes demonstrate playfulness, blenders contain a narrative, clothespins demonstrate utility, garden tools become a system.

  In combination with branding, the design of consumer objects aims to draw in the buyer with implied meaning-a meaning that is often greater than the object itself. As shoppers we've all succumbed to an "I must have that" moment; it is, of course, the designer's ability to successfully relay a greater narrative or emotion that convinces us to open our wallets. If it's not possible to build a better mousetrap, it certainly is possible to build a more meaningful one. "New Intersections" explores that meaning in a smart and playful way.

  Open through Feb. 21.