by Jerry Elengical, Samta NadeemSep 23, 2021
In today’s post-industrial world, hardware is ubiquitous in daily life - from door hinges and brackets, to clips, hooks, and drain covers. The variations in their design from place to place could be viewed in certain respects, as a mark of local ingenuity and industrial culture. London-based interdisciplinary designer and artist, Liang-Jung Chen, was intrigued by such aspects of these often overlooked yet indispensable features of the modern era, regarding hardware "as a future fossil of humankind". Having been trained in industrial design, Chen co-founded ii (initial initiatives), an interdisciplinary creative practice in 2018 as a side project to examine, categorise, and recontextualise these neglected objects of mass production. From this initial exploration emerged The Misused, a multifaceted collection of improvised design objects created using pieces of hardware seen in everyday life.
As stated by the designers in an official release, "The project comprises two disciplines: a research study and a collection of design objects. With the research, The Misused serves as an anthropological study on material culture.” Due to their half-finished nature, the functionality of hardware pieces is seldom limited to their original purpose, instead lending themselves to a variety of applications that fall beyond conventional norms. The designers mention, “The naming of The Misused questions the duality of the useful and the useless. It aims to liberate our minds from functional rigidity, a cognitive bias that limits a person to use an object only in the traditional way.” During the project’s first phase, Chen's team curated a vast selection of items on Instagram, to form the archive that would guide and shape the design work to follow.
After this, the ensuing product design process was divided into three stages: identifying the hardware, selecting additional complementary materials, and finally, determining the necessity for a piece of homeware crafted using the same. “Based on these principles, we were able to make sure that each homeware item is well-purposed,” relay the designers. Since hardware is generally designed and fabricated to be durable and sturdy, the amount of additional material required to ensure structural stability is often minimal. Among the objects constituting the collection are a jewel box made with butt hinges, a pepper mill made with a door knob, a watering can which uses a handrail bracket, as well as glass vases made with drain covers.
Despite adopting a relatively low-tech approach, the project poses poignant questions regarding the life cycle of such mass produced objects, and their potential to be reused in a world facing the dire threats of climate change and resource depletion. By virtue of displaying the versatility of hardware in different settings, the project also presents a case for decentralised manufacturing and smart fabrication, as well as a means to move towards a more circular design economy.
Chen explains in a press statement, "With The Misused, we aim to cultivate upcycling intelligence. What we are delivering is the value of thinking outside the box, to effectively make the most out of what we have at hand.” Hence, Chen's brainchild also offers a DIY method by which consumers can develop economically manufactured and upcycled design goods that cater to individual needs.
Since 2018, Liang-Jung Chen has exhibited three iterations of the collection, commencing with The Misused 1.0 in Tainan, Taiwan. This was then followed by The Misused 2.0, which went on display at Piet Hein Eek Gallery in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, during Dutch Design Week 2019. Finally, the latest edition, The Misused 3.0, took to the stage at the Heatherwick Studio-designed Coal Drops Yard in London during the London Design Festival 2020. More recently, the project was also the recipient of the ‘Homeware design of the year’ accolade at the Dezeen Awards 2021.
Regarding her future plans for the project, Chen mentions, “Currently, we are working on a hardware catalogue that will be published in 2022. With the catalogue, we aim to collect around 50 hardware pieces that tell the unique story of the local - taking our readers on a globetrotting tour of hardware culture.”