The Journey Into Design

Unnecessary Design and a Dumb Chicken

McNugget the shop chicken

I have often been accused of designing unnecessary things, such as a bench with a rock through it.  I was told, “how stupid, only one person can sit on it; anybody else will have to sit with a rock up their ass,” or “Why didn’t you just cut the rock off and glue it back on top of the wood?”

In their minds, these are legitimate criticisms; in my mind, they are shallow thinkers.  Yeah, so what if only one person can sit on a bench?  Maybe it’s a meditation bench for someone to be alone with their thoughts and become one with nature, hence the rock poking through the top.

In a previous post, I talked about the design of my bench, pushing my skills as a craftsman, and trying to figure out how to scribe the wood to the stone.  The act of putting in all this work instead of cutting the top off the rock and gluing it on top created a journey for the craftsman, a story to tell.  The story often adds much more value and interest to an inanimate object that would otherwise be another boring bench.

There are often deeper reasons behind the design, which are not always apparent to the shallow thinker or someone blissfully unaware.  Nevertheless, how do you know if the product you are considering buying has a deeper meaning or is just another mundane product that was poorly designed and pushed out to the market, hoping you will buy it?  Maybe it is even more cynical than that: a product designed with planned obsolescence or appears to have a purpose, but its purpose is unnecessary.

My first example of the bench was more philosophical and artistic, so let’s go to the other end of the spectrum and look at something on the surface that seems to be a bit more practical: a BBQ Cover.

Barbeque covers are designed to protect your barbecue from the elements. However, if your barbecue is well made, do you need a cover? Most quality barbecues are made from stainless steel, an alloy that doesn’t rust. I can attest to this: my current BBQ is almost a decade old, and aside from a few rusty bolts that can easily be replaced with stainless steel bolts for less than the cost of a BBQ cover, it is in pretty good condition.

Now I must confess, I did start out with a BBQ cover, but it has only been on it a few times, which in my opinion, is a significant design flaw.  After you BBQ and shut it off for the evening, you will most likely not put the cover on right away.  The BBQ is way too hot to try to fumble around with a big cover trying to put it back on, hoping not to burn yourself, or melt the cover.  So the cover lies on the ground while you enjoy your meal, waiting for you to come back out when it cools to be put back on the BBQ, but it’s late, and you fall asleep.

The next day is Monday, and you are off to work, and the cover lays there all week because you are busy and can’t be bothered with such things.  In my case, a bit of wind blows the cover into the window well.

Meanwhile, the next time I’m in the backyard, I’m hunting for one of our chickens (we call her McNugget); she has gone missing.  I assume a fox has carried her off, or some other predator, as it has been days since I have seen her.  As I walk back to the house, one of the other chickens is standing at the top of the window, well clucking, and not just any normal clucking, like she is in a panic. I’m not sure what is down in the window. Well, that is causing her to freak out.  I approach cautiously, slowly peering over the edge.  All I see is the BBQ cover.  Is she reminding me to put it back on, or is there something else under the cover, like a snake she is after?  I slowly lift the cover, expecting a snake to slither out, but instead, out pops McNugget.  She jumps up on the edge of the window well and stumbles across the yard, probably delirious from lack of food and water over the last few days.

McNugget was saved by her friend’s frantic clucking, like Lassie’s barking, “Timmy’s in a well, Timmy’s fallen in a well.” Somehow, little McNugget found her way under the BBQ cover, probably looking for bugs to eat, but couldn’t figure out how to get back out.

So now I ask you, if the BBQ is stainless steel and weather-resistant in the first place, do you need a BBQ cover?  Does a BBQ cover have a deeper design reason that I am blissfully unaware of? Is it only designed to fleece us out of our money and really serves no real purpose other than to make us feel better that we covered our prized BBQ, or is it a silent killer quietly hunting backyard chickens?

I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.