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Non-tech ideas worth spreading

We are on a technology high. New ideas are virtual, cloud based, responsive, run on data and powered by electricity. Non-tech, physical objects without a power supply are the play-thing of yesterday; they have developed as far as they are going to. The bread and butter of innovation is the web and things that connect with it. Or so it seems. Just as we hadn't solved all the problems on earth before heading into space, there are those who think that purely physical aspects of our life still have room for change and development. You know, the physical things you use daily: knives, plates, glasses, doors, flats and houses. The clothes, rucksacks, luggage and materials around you. Carpets, furnishings, bricks and mortar. The stuff you don’t have to charge or plug in. Such designers continue to rethink non-tech objects and ask two simple but bold questions:

“Object X, are you still doing what you’re supposed to? Are you doing it well?”

Today, these designers asked these questions. Of a butter knife.

This didn’t just make me smile; I believe the world could be far better if more of us think this way. They are also in their final Kickstarter funding days, so get yours whilst you still can.

Just a butter knife?

The objects around us, with which we’ve grown up, are so well known to us they become invisible. We might notice the problem – “on no, the butter is cold. And I’m going to tear my bread with the butter” – but there are few who will think of a simple design to fix it. Yes, you could have gone for an electric heated knife, or invented a butter/margarine combo for spreadability, or a butter dish that heats the section you’re about to use, or an app that tells you how long to leave the butter out so that it’s the perfect temperature... But a simpler, more elegant step has been found, tested and created.

The Bauhaus thinkers would have been proud. Form follows function. But this core Bauhaus statement is, to my mind, incomplete. Form follows function, but function changes with context. Here’s the butter knife example again. When the knife, and butter for that matter, was invented butter did not exist in a state of perpetual refrigeration. The 1950s explosion of innovations for the home impacted our butter consumption, but the butter knife didn’t catch on. In fact, this new butter knife design is overdue by over 50 years: the time in which fridges have become a kitchen standard.

Our future will not only see innovations in web, apps and hardware; designers out there are also reassessing the simplest, non-technological inventions of the past with our changing context in mind. If butter goes from larder temperature (10°C) to 2°C the function of using butter changes. Thus the butter knife usefully becomes the subject of potential rethinking.

And that’s just thinking about a butter knife.

Just a rucksack

From the point of view of a constant city traveller - that’s me and possibly you - I am looking at the rucksack in a new light. If you think about the rucksack out of context, it’s a Bauhaus dream. Form does follow function: it’s possibly the best way to transport anything of a small to medium size. Its two straps enable your back and legs to do the hard work, evenly distributing weight over your shoulders. It is out of the way thus allowing you to interact with the world without difficulty. We use them from the age of 6 or so and continue to as pupils, students, at work and on holiday throughout our lives.

I don't dispute the function of a rucksack out of context. It's in our new context I think it needs another look. Since 2009, over half the human population has and does live in urban spaces. Our increasingly city-based existence – home, work and holidays in the world’s capital cities – is our new context. Our social and urban environment has changed and the rucksack has not caught up. It’s, also, about 50 years behind our lives today.

The rucksack doesn't need a revamp with technology, an app or attachment to the internet. Those things will come. But for now, it’s a simple revolution in user thinking and design that can make a big impact to us in our urban context. I’ll reveal my revamped rucksack this autumn on Kickstarter.

Form follows function. Function must change with context.

What can you rethink?

Look at the objects and processes around you. If you have a complaint, could it be that the way we currently do things is incompatible with our 2014 context? Could you think of a simple way to update the things around you?

Revolution in user thinking. Rethinking everyday objects for our real use today.


Riut bag is a new rucksack for commuters, city jetters and urban dwellers. It will be unveiled and available this autumn for 30 days only via Kickstarter, crowdfunding website. Give your views on rucksacks and register to find out about the Riut bag when it is released.