Close encounter by Oscar Lhermitte



Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design student Oscar Lhermitte has designed a series of functionless objects that will "fulfil an unpredicted need".


Lhermitte used 3D software and a colour-coded card game to design shapes, which were then rapid prototyped.


"The Close Encounter project is a series of objects that have been designed without any function but with the purpose to fulfil an unpredicted need," says Lhermitte.


The following is from Oscar lhermitte:


Every product is designed to achieve a specific function and many of them are often misused to fulfil other purposes than what they are initially meant to; i.e using a chair as a doorstop.


What is wrong about using an object for something it has not been designed for? Why shall it be called mis-use/ wrong use? Why not letting the user decide of the function of an object? The Close Encounter project is a series of objects that have been designed without any function but with the purpose to fulfil an unpredicted need.


At first they might appear useless, but the fact that they are present in time and space give them the opportunity to be used for something. It is up to the user to perceive/think of a function or not. If used as a seat, then it is a seat; if used as a bowl, then it is a bowl, etc. No name/no function, hence a lot of potential uses.


Instead of deciding of a function and to create an object to achieve this function (Form follows Function), I wanted to create unknown products and see how we could use them (Function follows form). The object is here, it has a material, a shape, a colour, a weight. What can it achieve?


During the design process, I realized it was impossible to create useless objects as the simple fact of sketching a shape and giving it a scale was already giving it a function. In order to fulfil my objectives, I had to step away from the design process; I had to dislocate myself from any rational thinking.


The RX227 process is a card game combined with 3D software that allows me to create random useless objects. Its aim is not to create highly complex forms, but only forms I would not expect. All the objects emerging from this process are rapid prototyped so that any product designed by the game can be produced.

The initial aim of this project was to research the phenomenon of misuse (finding new functions in something that has not been designed for them) but it turned itself into an understanding of the relation Function/Form.

Form follows Function? Function follows Form? Neither of them, Form=Function=Form.

Posted on Friday March 27th 2009 at 4:41 pm by Rob Ong. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Cool and diferent.
    Conceptual to the extreme!

  • Objects that “fulfil an unpredicted need”.
    What a surrealist, artistic and poetic comment to some design projects!

  • A very interesting project. The only thing “designed” here is the card game process that was used. The idea of creating an object without the purpose of solving a design problem, but rather for the discovery of a purpose, seems like some sort of anthropological experiment. The is that the designer is not the creator of the objects, but the person who devises a purpose for them and puts them to use. It makes me think of the first time a human being must have looked at a rock and decided it could be used to hammer something.

  • nicey

    love the objects; the way they make the humans seem randomly useless.

  • mikaël

    Seriously?!? these where rapid prototyped!!! it’s called a saw and glue, learn the works… sorry if I sound bitter, but rapid prototyping theses seems kinda lazy …. or you just dunno how to do things’n stuff

  • Matt

    “dunno how to do things n’ stuff” from someone complaining about learning the basics. Apply your theory to your own words

  • bibo architect

    To design means Solving a Problem.. so please call it functionless structures, functionless sculptures.. but that’s not a DESIGN!!

  • B

    some loose comments:
    no its not design..but it is artwork reflecting on design..quite interesting and good to see …big problems are hardly ever solved within the scene they appear.
    a design process like this might help…or not..ah well ….you can never experiment to much as a student. nice project….
    problem with just making weird things is that they can always be more weird….But with a mind this liberated..I would like to see what a radio, computer of a car looks like from the same hand.

  • Terry Glenn Phipps

    The nexus between design and problem solving is its problem. Neither do the formal solutions to problems represent the exclusive or integral language of design.

    False sense of purpose and the siren call of the need to solve problems is the engine of a great deal of dysfunctional design. Why not, then, try to find ways to defuse that process or to subvert it.

    The telos of an object may exist on any number of levels. Fitness for purpose, for example, is but one criteria by which to measure an object. Perhaps the object is meant to compel, to intrigue, or to disgust.

    The narrow and dogmatic definition of design to solve a functional problem is clearly not adequate. If it were adequate we wouldn’t need millions of designs for chairs because the problem of sitting would have been solved by the one design, the neo chair, that would have finally cracked the matrix. Instead we have an entire language, or better entire languages for sitting.

    As for the rapid prototyping bit I particularly love the sort of dada use of this insanely overbaked technology. It reminds me of the artist in America that I saw published in the NYTimes the other day who uses a CT scanner to examine objects like Barbie (not Klaus the doll) or a Big Mac. This is a great way of cutting technical over-complication down to a human scale.

    Personally, I am getting to hate CAD/CAM software for the unintended consequences that it has had on the ancient practice of building (long before it existed as the quasi scientific discipline of architecture and design). Therefore, I am a big fan of anything that subverts that technology into the unexpected.

    Terry Glenn Phipps

  • Vico

    bibo your concept of design is ridiculous and excludes most of what designers do.

  • Eric

    I appreciate the premise, but fear that it has – and will- go nowhere.
    Any object can be used for an ‘unpredicted need’ – like the chair/doorstop analogy. Good design is surely about providing for a need or even predicting a future need – this is just not doing either. Who is going to buy it? And why?

  • Aaron

    bibo architect, i think you’re confused because the forms are best described as sculptural. the process, however, is definitely design because he solved the problem of how to create objects that could be useful without signifying any one particular use.

  • Alqamaru

    Looks so uncomfortable!!!

  • togon

    seems like a purely hypothetical project. I dont know if it would be of any benifit to consumers if commercialized? That said, we should all be using our efforts towards human comfort and not wasting the resources to rapid prototype “these” sort of projects.

  • shishir

    i agree with bibo architect

  • @ bibo architect “To design means Solving a Problem.. “…
    Did the most famous and prolific designers Philippe Starck + Karim Rashid solved problems? …
    Ask you this question for your job : Is to be an achitect means only Solving Problems?.. .

  • I can definitely see the rapid prototyping, a lot of the of the traditional design steps were bypassed, that’s all. That’s why the scale of the objects are a bit odd, but isn’t that the point of Oscar’s concept?(Maybe). The individual encountering these object would simply “use” them. “Unpredicted needs”.

  • bob

    typical rca jidder

  • Mike


    “Did the most famous and prolific designers Philippe Starck + Karim Rashid solved problems? …”

    No, but they did produce the same forms and ideas repeatedly with very little innovation, except for putting themselves at ther centre of the design work they do. Do you really think that half of their stuff would even be looked at if it wasn’t for their names emblazoned all over the place?

    As for this work, while it looks at an interesting subject matter and has been designed to be not designed as it were, it is clear that the designer has put little thought into why he’s done this. What is point of it – it’s not really commenting on anything going on in the design world (except maybe overproduction of material goods) and so can’t be seen as looking at design from a different perspective.

    A lot of this subject area of post optimal objects (which this can kind of be classified as) is actually based on trying to look at future possibilities (like Dunne and Raby) or taking apart the typlogies on which the objects are based (Ralph Ball). This does neither and really doesnt say much about design or the objects created.

    Finally, rapid prototyping the obejcts seems an easy way out – they’re clearly easy to make and half of the fun and expertise of manufacture com,es from building things yourself. Ont he positive side, i think they are aesthetically arresting and could grow into a fascinating collection if they are given a bit more direction and clarity.

  • Broken designer

    Zuy Starck and Rashid solved lots of problems. Their problems of course.
    That’s what i am trying to do as well.

  • bubbalouie

    ‘Did the most famous and prolific designers Philippe Starck + Karim Rashid solved problems?’

    Zuy open you’r mind to other things away from an overrated french man and a piece of plastic.

  • Marie Garnier a young french designer did that unpredicted object, useless object? not design? ” I open my mind everyday to innovation in design ,to new designers, new concepts, i’m not a stars addict…not Eindhoven or RCA addict too

  • Jo

    While I like the fact this person is trying to think differently, I think this particular project revisits very, well explored issues. There is nothing special about designing random forms and discovering they can be used as tables, chairs and bins. Everyday, people discover new uses for objects designed for other purposes . Sculptor Richard Wentworth calls it ‘making do and getting by” and has documented it beautifully in various books and videos. It’s great to see an interest in ‘avant-garde’ design thinking coming back, but anyone hoping to work in this area should really study its history, especially 60s and 70s Italian radical design, where many of these kinds of ideas have already been explored, especially through furniture.

  • I think most design students have at some point resorted to the ‘randomise design’ solution for coming up with forms. Dice, cards, spinning tops – I think we’ve all been there. I think I did some randomised architecture at one point.

    Often it results in some midly evocative thinking, as above – but little more. Basically – it just really doesn’t ever bite – and is fundamentally lacking in the passion that probably caused the student to be interested in design (or objects in general) in the first place.

    I would only recommend a student to engage with the randomise game as a personal kick start for loosening up their designs – not for making a project about randomisation – it’s just a bit of a ‘sigh’.

    Sorry but … ‘sigh…’ time to search within for some personal passion.

    (I point a finger here at CSM tutors)

  • Crusty the Clown

    It is laudable that students question the mechanics of the design process and ideas of form and function. This project gets the Crusty seal of approval with two gold stars. Death to convenience.

  • Even without taking a hard line on what constitutes design, I do find this smacks of boredom and a bit of child like provocation. I would prefer if Lhermitte took some quiet time to see if maybe there is something more he could offer us either of use or of beauty.

  • headplow

    Just what the world needs! More useless shit to take up space and offer nothing in the way of moving us forward. What a waste of time and energy and I honestly have to say it isn’t even clever it’s just nonsense. Suppose I took a perfectly good object and smashed it into pieces and then said, “It’s up to the end user to find a new way to use this.” Actually my process would achieve the same purpose as the above in a fraction of the time. Brilliant concept heh?