Sometimes in life the smallest and most insignificant things can make you stop, ponder and smile. Those with pets or children are exposed to plenty such opportunities. But we designers are particularly lucky, as we’re trained (and occasionally paid) to be particularly aware of our surroundings. We thrive on the inherent beauty in practically everything.
But we most enjoy the times when we stumble upon something we recognize to be creatively designed, rather than just existing in only pure and functional form. We appreciate the thought and creativity that goes into such design effort, particularly when there was no need to do so in the first place. It reminds us that design is not just for special circumstances, but that it can make almost every aspect of our life a little bit more interesting.
These simple small things are around everyone, but usually overlooked, as most are either too busy or generally unaware of what is around themselves. However, when traveling in foreign lands, you tend to have a “fresh” eye which opens your mind to seeing new things of nontraditional beauty and interest.
In Japan, almost everything is designed with an aesthetic awareness, including their utilitarian manhole covers. In many ways, they’re similar to the Mon, a Japanese crest or emblem used to decorate and identify an individual or family. It is said that there are almost 3000 manhole cover designs existing in Japan and there is even a website that documents them (Journal of Sewerage, Monthly). Fantastic, no? And for the obsessed, there is even a coffee table book called “Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers” ($10.80 on Amazon).
On a recent trip to the land of samurai and geisha, I finally decided to start my own collection and snapped at them in every city. Each one was a reminder that someone made the conscious effort to create something of lasting interest and beauty in perhaps one of the most overlooked and mundane of objects.
Yet it also reminds me that there is so much thoughtless design that still exists and continues to be created. We must endure drab offices, products, clothing and even occasionally a little drabness within one’s home. Too many inexpensive and quickly produced options tend to mute the potential for beauty. So why pass up an opportunity to inject a little design into our lives? All it takes is a little thought here and there.
A sample of my own collection:
For more manhole covers: http://www.gesuidou.jp/magazine/manhole/index.html
Click on the map and then click on an entry to see a cover!