Quaint Relics is a speculative exploration of electronic waste and its potential for reuse in different contexts. Motivated by the worrying effects of planned obsolescence and consumerism, the project provides a glimpse into a future where individuals persistently seek outlets for consumer goods, even in the face of material scarcity hindering the creation of new products.
This project emerged as a convergence of ideas that brought together my growing concern about the impact of design on consumption and waste, and my fascination with non-traditional design approaches like speculative design. The outcome was a series of imaginative product concepts that creatively repurposed e-waste, often with a hint of irony.
The overarching goals of Quaint Relics were twofold: to explore how the original functions of electronics could find new contexts and to examine how our connections to certain electronics might shape our perception of the transformed pieces.
The concept of the Monitor Lamp was the initial spark for this project. It originated from the (frequent) nights when I would stay up late on my computer, with the screen's glow being the sole light in my room. This led to the idea of integrating a monitor into a floor lamp, giving it a new purpose while still paying homage to its previous function. Throughout the design process, I was drawn to the charm of the classic Windows XP Bliss background. But, I envisioned the lamp as a customizable piece where users could personalize the screen with their preferred visuals.
The Computer Chair design aimed to reimagine how the human body interacts with computer elements. Rather than using your hands to press keys, you would sit on them, and instead of facing the screen directly, it would serve as a backrest. This piece in particular involved a lot of experimentation, exploring possibilities like integrating a subwoofer or utilizing CNC-cut plywood for a flat-pack design. But, it wasn't until I actually started working with materials and discarded parts that I found a rolling chair that provided the perfect opportunity to incorportate e-waste in place of the original cushions.
The GPU Fan repurposes a graphics processing unit into a desk fan, utilizing its internal fans to cool humans instead of computer hardware. By using a highly sought-after component solely for its basic features, this piece not only gives e-waste a new life but also makes a commentary on the value of the original product. As GPUs have become increasingly scarce and expensive in recent years, incorporating this valuable component into a humble desk fan creates a juxtaposition that aims to convey a sense of irony and humor.
The Speaker Cabinet features a hollowed-out subwoofer atop mid-century table legs, resulting in a functional storage solution. Previously, the subwoofer remained somewhat unnoticed as a stationary device, delivering its sound without drawing much attention. Typically tucked away underneath a desk or concealed in other ways. However, with its transformation, the subwoofer now assumes a more prominent role in a living space, inviting users to actively interact with it and store objects inside.
The Microwave Console repurposes the inner cavity of a microwave oven, converting it into a console table made from reclaimed wood materials. The design of this piece capitalizes on our familiarity with microwave ovens, but adds a surprising element by placing it in an unconventional context and orientation. This contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar is intended to bring a sense of recognition and curiosity when encountering and interacting with the piece.
The Microwave End Table repurposes the outer casing of a microwave, incorporating a PCB-covered board as a central support. Drawing inspiration from the distinctive characteristics of the metal casing, its design seeks to captivate viewers and prompt a double-take. At first glance, it may be mistaken for a typical end table, but upon closer inspection, the unmistakable air vents on its sides reveal the piece's true origins. Like its counterpart, the Microwave Console, this piece combines the familiar and the unfamiliar, evoking a sense of familiarity and curiosity that invites further exploration.
The concept behind the Audio Stand raises the question: how would people adapt when their audio systems become inoperable, and new replacements are unavailable? It explores a possible outcome where individuals resort to makeshift solutions, like utilizing basic FM radio alarm clocks, to continue enjoying music. In this scenario, the alarm clock is integrated into a floor lamp frame, giving it a newfound significance and elevating its purpose beyond its original function.
The Fluorescent Shelf repurposes a fluorescent lighting fixture into a functional mounted shelf, using brackets and fastening hardware for its transformation. This piece aims to bring attention to commonly overlooked technology. In offices and schools, overhead lights often blend into the background, and yet they still contribute to e-waste. But with the Fluorescent Shelf, it takes center stage in a more prominent and engaging manner. This piece serves as a reminder that e-waste encompasses more than just phones and computers — it includes seemingly inconspicuous items that often go unnoticed.
The culmination of this project resulted in the display of eight final pieces at my senior capstone exhibition. Accompanying these pieces was an interactive installation that transformed a CRT monitor and camcorder into a makeshift "mirror," allowing viewers to see themselves within the e-waste showroom I had created. Atop this "mirror" stood another, smaller CRT, playing an 8-minute process video that intricately documented the various stages of the project. The video's aesthetic deliberately paid homage to the look and feel of early-2000s infomercials. To further complement the experience, I also designed "Product Information" sheets to provide viewers with detailed insights into each piece and its components.
Now that this project stands as a finished work, I intend for it to provoke contemplation and raise questions. It's not meant to propose a practical path towards sustainability, but rather to comment on how people might respond to resource scarcity.
Are we hurtling toward a future where the creation of consumer goods becomes increasingly challenging? And if so, will our consumerist tendencies still drive us to chase after "the next big thing" to the point where we turn to repurposing waste as a creative outlet?