In my youth I was entranced with W Heath Robinson’s fantastic gadgets – not only with the absurdity and complexity of his devices, but with the compelling nature of his illustrations which forced my mind to follow and delight in their workings. Powered by bald, bespectacled gentlemen, forces were ingeniously transmitted through complex pulley arrangements and threads of knotted string to eventually perform quite simple, mundane tasks.
Years later, while working on dispensing packs for Unilever deodorants, I was constantly reminded of the nature of mechanisms and how they can bring an involvement and satisfaction that engages with the consumer on a different level to the task at hand.
As designers today, we strive to deliver brand experiences that reward in a multi-sensorial way. Heath Robinson was a man whose love of the absurd and sense of humour inspired many a designer to think beyond the functional brief and revel in the delivery of the solution.
There is something fundamentally honest and engaging about a mechanical process that is lacking in many of today’s electronic gadgets. You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the intrinsic appeal of a Sweetex dispenser, the humble office stapler or a Rabbit corkscrew.
And if you still need convincing about our love affair with mechanical contraptions, how about the masterpiece that is the Mousetrap board game?
iPod, eat your heart out.