Cuts Like a Knife

Anthony Bourdain suggested I buy a Global brand knife and use it for life. So I did.

I’m not exactly sure why I trusted Anthony Bourdain’s recommendation. Perhaps, I thought to myself, Global was a sponsor of Bourdain and he was getting paid good money to hawk their products. But maybe not. I’ve read several of his books and watched pretty much all of his food-themed tv shows. He didn’t seem like the type of guy to throw out an opinion lightly. I enjoyed his dry sense of humor, admired his willingness to take risks, and for some reason unknown to me, I tend to trust people who are generally cynical. Cynical people don’t lie. So, my wife and I bought a Global knife, a whole set in fact.

More interesting, however, is how I started to behave after we acquired the set of knives. I was enamored by the product as soon as the set arrived at my door. I opened the package immediately, inspected the 4 knives closely for any imperfections, and handled each of the knives individually. I enjoyed the various weights in my hand, the softness of the metal material, and appreciated the small dimpled design details highlighting the grip. As a designer with a degree in Human Factors, I considered the ergonomics, the balance, and the overall utility – and was generally impressed. I read carefully through the history of the brand and the care instructions. I practiced my chopping skills on a few sacrificial vegetables. I washed the set by hand as instructed, dried them with a microfiber cloth, and stored them carefully in the new knife block we purchased to display the knives.

In hindsight this behavior was quite strange. I had never been interested in knives before. Most of our previous kitchen knives were random and dull hand-me-downs. I don’t remember complaining about them once. I don’t remember discussing them with anyone either. They were just there, available, ready to be used when needed. Pedestrian but functional, and certainly not worthy of reflection. As time passed, however, I noticed that my new Global knives demanded quite a bit of attention, care, and oddly, reflection.

With each dinner preparation I carefully selected the knife most appropriate for the job. After dinner I hand-washed each knife with care and attention so as to prolong the life of each dangerously sharp blade. I dried them off dutifully. I watched YouTube videos on how to properly hone them, and then honed them regularly. I even took them to a local shop to have them sharpened – twice in the same year. I didn’t mind all the extra work, care, and attention. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. And two years later, I still do. I’ll never go back to a lesser knife, even if they purport to require less care.

This behavioral change is what interests me the most. These simple yet beautiful knives created new habits, both positive and constructive. I’m doing more work without hesitation and without complaint. These knives demanded care and required additional attention, and I obliged willfully. The care they required created moments of pause and reflection, and in doing so created a sense of responsibility for sustained long-term use. I plan to keep and use these well designed and manufactured products until they can no longer perform their function. And when I’m done, the remaining metal can be recycled and made into future Global knives.

I’m curious to know why this behavioral change took place. Why would I take on all this extra work? Why did I seem to enjoy it so much? It got me thinking: Can the products we use every day to complete basic, utilitarian tasks achieve the same results for others? Can these so-called “everyday objects” promote positive behavioral change, such as care, attention, reflection, and sustained use? And if so, would it be too much of a leap to wonder if common everyday objects can inspire responsible productivity such as environmental sustainability and social responsibility? I’m talking positive, productive, and actionable change. Meaningful change. If so, how?

Much has been written about the positive impact that art (music, dance, literature, motion pictures, fine art, etc.) can have on individuals and society alike. I’m interested to know if pedestrian everyday things, and the simple tasks they support, can waken us from the solipsist everyday we typically experience to promote more positive, productive, and meaningful behaviors, attitudes, and actions. These are the types of ideas and questions I’ll be exploring in my research and discussing with you in this blog.

Can we use design to turn everyday utilitarian things into far more meaningful things? Can we turn everything things into Extraordinary Things?