Intentional Redesign vs Non-Intentional Design

Posted on 02/28/2011


A little while ago, Lynn told me about Design by Use because of its applicability to my capstone. I thought I’d use Siriomi Reflects to capture my notes and reflections on the matter.

Intentional Redesign and Appropriation

The authors discuss appropriation as changing the experiential meaning by its transfer to a “different cultural context” (50). They continue, “Making things your own by endowing them with personal meaning seems to be a deeply ingrained human need” (50). They talk about such things as “waste as inspiration,” and other instances where “objects are used differently from their intended purpose” (47, 35). This is different from non-intentional design (NID), because these different uses are not based in “situational use” but rather consistently misused, as it were (35).

Non-intentional Design

The authors go into this idea of non-intentional design by observing “similar forms are used for the same purpose even if they were not created to fulfill the same function” (55). For instance, using a butter knife, keys, etc, to open a letter. They therefore say that “form follows use” rather than the adage “form follows function” (55).

This is a big difference, because function implies the designer’s intended use, versus the user’s actual use of the object. “Use implies choice” (56). I think my favorite line in this book is:

If, in the spirit of NID, things are used for purposes other than they were intended for, this is not due to a misinterpretation of their original function, but is instead rooted in our ability to see beyond this and discover abstract or open forms.


While this book focuses on appropriations defined by non-intentional design, i.e. using a radiator to dry a pair of wet shoes, etc, I still found it interesting. My appropriations are related more to the intentional redesign, or intentional use that is other than the use intended by the artifact’s designer. This could mean the functional use of the artifact, or the aesthetic use of the artifact, which changes the interaction/experience.

I hope this post makes sense. I’ve been completely knocked out by a sinus-cold-thing the last couple of days. This is my first true day of lucidity. Yay me!


  1. Brandes, U., Stitch, S., and Wender, M. 2008. Design by use: the everyday metamorphosis of things. Birkhouser, Boston, Mass.
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