Project Outline

This research project sought to explore narratives associated with everyday objects through the process of heuristic making and creative collaboration with other people. It considers the significance of this in relation to understanding and expressing personal identity through objects. Through the act of making, the research explores unfamiliar ways of engaging with objects as a way to consider the multi-faceted relationships that can be found – between groups of people, between people and their everyday objects, people and their construction of identity in relation to their socio-cultural backgrounds.

Arguably, recognising these nuances in the relationships between humans and the built environment allows the designer to be aware of the different world-views they promote through the things they design. My practice aims to employs these considerations in the design for everyday things to potentially mediate sustainable practices in terms of production and use, relationality and co-creation.

Lamps as Offerings

I began my journey into investigating the emotional concentrations around everyday objects by making lamps that would embody the relationships I share with my peers. My making process was inspired by reflecting on my thoughts and feelings connected to each of the individuals I had decided to design for – the relationship catalysts of my endeavour. My approach to making was actively hands-on and I used materials that I could easily procure or had already laying around.

Through this act of making, my practice shifted to an ambiguous space of explorative making. My hands-on approach to material manipulation was a means of materialising my perceptions of shared relationships with the people around me. It allowed for an adaptable and reciprocal conversation between my imagined outcomes and the realised actions.

Gallery of Meaningful Disposables: Lamp Edition

Inspired by similar ideas of creating narratives around everyday objects to recognise and enhance their emotional value, I created an installation: The Gallery of Meaningful Disposables. The gallery was a collection of artefacts that I designed with my peers in a series of studio workshops. These workshops explored ways of building narrative and giving afterlife to mundane objects of everyday use.

The first phase of these studio explorations was speculative. I asked my peers to visually inspect their lamps and discuss amongst themselves their initial thoughts connected to its use and affordances. I provided prompts to keep the discussion going: “Who was the past owner of the lamp? Describe their relationship with their lamp. What might be their aspirations in life?” These prompts eased my fellow designers into imagining and telling stories about: fictional people, their lives and personalities, the people around them, their future – all with a central focus around the lamp itself.

In the second phase, I asked my peers to take apart the lamp they had created imaginary stories for. I was interested to see if new understandings of each lamp’s inside functional components would be afforded through the unmaking. The process of unmaking with my fellow designers proved to be very constructive in terms of illustrating the other part of the story behind the lamps – the one related to the lamps being a product of intricate and elaborate manufacturing systems. The unmaking allowed us to recognise the efforts and complexities that go into conceiving devices that seem so mundane to us, but are the products and fruits of remarkable amounts of labour.

In the third and final phase, I asked my designer peers to give the lamps an afterlife – to create something new out of their lamp’s components – keeping in mind the initial narrative they had built around them it in phase one. By asking my peers to follow the narrative they created in the first phase of interactions with the lamp I afforded studio based opportunities for thinking about the psychological and emotional considerations connected to old, broken, familiar, not so familiar everyday objects and turning them into something new, exciting and slightly ambiguous.

These practices, if considered in the product design process might allow for long-lasting relationships to be formed between products and their users, thereby extending product lifespan. It also allows for potentially generating a skill-based local economy that is more resilient and less wasteful.

Stories of a Water Bottle

The following illustrated story is inspired by the book Evocative Objects: Things We Think With. The book is a collection of autobiographical essays by scientists, humanists, artists and designers that describe the potential of objects to connect them to other people and ideas. The comic I drew expresses narratives from my lived experiences as a means of revealing and exploring my socio- cultural perspective by examining a mundane object such as a water bottle.

This medium of illustrated narratives can be explored further to share personal stories about everyday objects with the larger community, in the hopes that it facilitates a broader conversation around the perception of everyday objects as windows into anthropological understandings of the world.

About me

I am an engineer, industrial designer and design researcher, interested in exploring and understanding the space that connects humans to the built world. As a designer, I want my creations to be inspired from real human stories and evoke emotions that enable us to sustain deeper connections with the things we surround ourselves with.

For any inquiries, please reach out to me at


Thanks for your interest,

Sheen Darbari