Themes/Form: Playfulness in design

jw introduces some products that will make you think about the shelf life of objects and the ideas behind their form and function.

As a designer, it’s important to look at objects from different perspectives and allow yourself to embrace the joy of playfulness expressed through the form, material, colour, interaction or narrative (story) of an object. However, it’s also wise to remember to assess the functionality and sustainability of an object as well.

Here are three objects I believe are all incredibly playful – the form of these products attracts me to pick them up and interact with them. But, I wonder if over time the playful design element becomes less important than the functionality of the object? Does playfulness come with an expiry date? Take a look and decide on your winner in the race between playful form and functioning design.


The Apple iBook G3 ‘Clamshell’

Credit: ‘Apple iBook G3 466 MHz Blue/White Clamshell’. Designed by Jony Ive. Photograph, Carl Berkeley, via Flickr
In 1999 Apple released the iBook G3 series which centred around the idea that laptops didn’t have to be beige or grey rectangles. They took the clamshell closure quite literally. Everyone saw this design to be incredibly playful but led some to refer to this new form as the ‘Barbie toilet seat’ or the ‘Teletubby purse’. Regardless of shape, a laptop computer has a specific function to serve and this could be the reason that two years after the release of the design, Apple went back to the rectangle standard, from which the company hasn’t diverted in almost 20 years.

Find out where the iBook G3 fits in Apple’s timeline via Designboom


The Spun Chair


Credit: ‘The Spun Chair'. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick for Magis. Video of the chair use on the Southbank, via London SE1. The ‘Spun Chair’ challenges what we believe balance can or should be in seating. Like a ride at the funfair you can rock and spin around without tipping over but to stay stationary takes a bit more focus (try it out at the Design Museum in London). So, should a chair first and foremost always be an object of function? Or can the purpose of a chair be about something more? Can it be about fun?

Explore more of Thomas Heatherwick’s work on his website


COOKUT Wooof, nutella, butter spreader


Credit: ‘COOKUT Wooof, nutella butter spreader'. Designed by Bertrand Fougerat. Video, jw. Lastly, the wiener dog shaped COOKUT Wooof, nutella, butter spreader has a special purpose (to spread!) and in form, colour and material it screams playfulness. It also has an additional function; it can be set down without the blade touching the table. So, what is first seen as playful, over time becomes an object which serves many purposes. And on pause you may be reminded of the playful element to it.

Discover more of Bertrand Fougerat’s designs via Studio Brash

Personally, I’m naturally attracted to an object with a playful element, but I make sure to take a moment to think. After the object stops being playful will it provide the function I’m asking or needing it to serve? Look around your home, at school and college or whilst you travel around London. What playful objects exist in your life?
Looking for more inspiration?

Explore more playful design ideas via jw’s ‘Playful Design’ pinboard
Interested in 3-Dimensional and product design?

BA (Hons) Product Design
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design