Placed on the edge of the door, “Keep door closed” shows only when the door is open, and hides when the door is closed. People need to be told “keep door closed” only when the door is open. The idea that the sign on this door shows only when it is needed and disappears from plain sight when it is not, is delightful. The sign is hidden until useful.


A similar application of “hidden until useful” is described by Apple’s Jonathan Ives as he talks about the sleep indicator light on the MacBook. He says, “It’s really important in a product to have a sense of a hierarchy of what’s important and what’s not important by removing those things that are all vying for your attention. An indicator has a value when it is indicating something. But if its not indicating something, it shouldn’t be there.”
(from Objectified)


The sleep indicator light on the MacBook disappears when it is not in use. The light emits through laser drilled perforations in the aluminum body. These holes are so tiny that the aluminum appears seamless when the light is off. Unlike other laptops that have a row of lights lining the front edge of the device, the sleep indicator on the MacBook does not even seem to exist until the computer is asleep. It kept hidden until useful.


Developing an hierarchy of what’s important and what’s not important, showing an indicator when it has value and keeping it hidden when its not, is much easier with electronic applications or virtual interfaces. It just needs to be programmed or wired. But what interests me are non-electronic applications such as the “keep door closed” example described above. It uses the physicality of the door or affordance of the door to hide and show the sign.


I decided to find more examples of “hidden until useful” in non-electronic applications and experiment with it on my own. One example I came up with is concerning dishwashers. A familiar problem with dishwashers is that it is hard to tell if the dishes neatly lined inside are clean or are in fact dirty.


Upon observation, I noticed that between closing the dishwasher full of dirty dishes and opening it to clean dishes, one of the things that changes is the cup that holds the detergent. Before the dishwasher is run, the cup is closed and after, the cup is flipped open. So I told my family, right after they empty the dishwasher, to fill it with detergent and close the cup. The closed cup indicates a dirty load, and therefore after the dishwasher runs and the cup automatically opens, we know that the open cup indicates that the current load of dishes is clean. Surprisingly this method is working for us. No more putting dirty dishes into a clean load so far.




We have been pouring plaster molds for slip casting in ceramics class. Plaster is such a wonderful material, I always found it a waste to throw away the excess from a pour; especially if I completely overestimated how much I needed to fill the mold. So these are a few artifacts from some of the fun I had with the leftover plaster.


The different shape and texture of each piece is the result of how thick the plaster was when I formed it, how my hand was shaped when I released it, and the motion I used when releasing it. When plaster is hardening, there is a 2-5 min window when the plaster is thick enough to retain certain shapes and soft enough to create smooth surfaces. I have to work fast so I am able to let go of myself and let each piece become what it wants to be.


I am always impressed by how uniquely each of them turn out. I found some pieces to ask to be handled delicately as if it is a polished gem I don’t want to leave fingerprints on. Others are baby soft and desire to be touched. When I lightly flick some pieces, they let out a ting. I like them all and I find myself trying to make room for them on my desk. This is a wonderful transformation from having been destined for the trash can. It is interesting how a simple manipulation of material can add significant value to the object.


I found this observation similar to Kenya Hara’s comment about a project by the architect Kengo Kuma, Cast-off Snakeskin Paper Towel. Kenya Hara describes it in his wonderful book, Designing Design…




“Next is a paper towel proposed by the architect Kengo Kuma. Made of washi (traditional Japanese paper) so thin and light that if you toss it up, it will float in the air for a few moments. The paper is embossed transversely with a texture that, from its scale, suggests a snake about 2m long… After washing up, dry your hands with one. That’s what they’re made for.


When I talk about them though, people often remark that they’re too good to use, that it would be a waste. But if they were not embossed, with a snakeskin pattern or anything else, we’d normally toss them in the trash. If some people think it would be a waste to use a paper towel that has become haptic through embossing, does it mean that the object has thus gained some kind of memorable value?”