This paper contributes to a larger research project that considers humour in the context of product design, and enquires how product designers might capitalise upon understandings of humour.

The paper will introduce chindōgu, a variety of rather curious product design gadgets. The name chindōgu means weird/unusual tool and was coined by Japanese journalist/inventor Kenji Kawakami in the 1980s. Dan Papia (president of the International Chindōgu Society) describes chindōgu as ‘unuseless’ in that, whilst executing their primary function, chindōgu create social and/or practical problems of far greater magnitude than the ones that they are designed to solve. Chindōgu are therefore not useful, but nor are they entirely useless either: they exist instead in a state of ‘unuselessness’.

It will be argued that chindōgu appear to challenge traditional design ideology in a rather satirical fashion. This is done through a knowing application of product design’s own methods and logic. The paper will outline this logic (rooted in Modernism) with reference to Sullivan’s infamous assertion that “form ever follows function”. The paper asks what chindōgu might introduce to the long-established – yet ongoing – discourse surrounding the idea that ‘form follows function’ and speculates that chindōgu are illustrative of the perils of an overzealous devotion to Sullivan’s proclamation: chindōgu being considered to take specialised function to the point of generalised dysfunction.

This paper will also briefly ask why people find chindōgu humorous at all, and in doing so acknowledges that chindōgu might be thought to reinforce models of humour as extrinsic, conditionised, cultural construct.

A synthetic analysis will be employed as a means to draw design and humour into the same conversation, exploring a broad range of aggression, release, and incongruity theories (of humour), and ideas of utility, critical design, post-optimality, anti-method, and pop art – with synthetic analysis providing a means to conceptualise this process.

Whilst making product design artefacts that are funny, or funny to use (or even funny to imagine using) might sound like a rather trivial and trite thing to do, this paper asks whether it might in fact invite a deep reinvestigation and revisionist model of design. This paper speculates then, that chindōgu might be symptomatic of a fraying or tearing in a modernist logic that underpins much industrial design methodology and critique, and in doing so considers the phenomenon of unuselessness as a similar ‘undoing’ of such a logic.

Keywords: Chindōgu, Unuselessness, Modernism, Product Design, Critical Design.

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