Object Solutions's website makes the company look like it's the unsurprising nexus of TED Talks and infomercials; the phrase "Welcome to a world of problems, solved," could be a slogan for a company selling almost anything. In this case, though, it's the slogan of a company selling nothing at all.
Like the TBD Catalog, which carries products that are in the present unmade and unknown as a window into the future, Object Solutions is the science fiction of product design. Given that we live in a world of science fiction products, the most remarkable about the stuff "made" by Object Solutions is that none of them actually exist. But just as science fiction can reflect the world as it is in the world-yet-to-come, Object Solutions reveals something true and queasy about how we already consume.
As with many real-world products, you can't place anything from Object Solutions on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, because "need" has nothing to do with, say, patio furniture that slowly spins you around to ensure you get even sun-exposure. Unlike real-world products, however, that's the whole point. "An Object Solution narrows the definition of our everyday needs in order to enable its existence," the website states, rather chillingly.
"I create fictional products to reimagine our everyday world and consider whether consumer products are the desirable next steps," Ernesto Morales, the founder of Object Solutions, told me. "I create imposed narratives that function much like advertising does: you are the hero of your own consumer story, and this product is your main supporting character."
The supporting characters in his oeuvre so far are a full-body moist towelette, an add-on to your dryer that 3D prints new clothes made of lint, and a hybrid spoon/magnifying glass. Morales, who has elsewhere worked advertising and branding, makes sure that necessity isn't the mother of these inventions, the need to invent is.
"My narratives focus less on the positives the product will bring (e.g. you'll be more confident and beautiful) but rather on the negatives that must be addressed immediately ('Life offers an onslaught of filth at every turn, and the Full-Body Moist Towel offers a refreshing alternative')," he said. "The methodology is to define 'problems' extremely narrowly and propose 'solutions' that are hyper-specialized.
"If you slam your finger in a door latch," Morales continued, "I won't propose a better door latch or a mindfulness practice to reduce accidents. Instead, I'll propose specialized protective gloves that you wear every time you cross the threshold of your home. I introduce a mediating technology to fill the gap between the user and the existing world, which in turn creates more gaps that are ready to be filled by a new Object Solution. By creating this 'world of problems, solved,' I mean to call attention to this tendency in product design: filling ever more gaps with ever more external tools."
If you slam your finger in a door latch, I won't propose a better door latch
Judging from this cheap-laugh gif gold mine taken from infomercials, most products sold late at night are for people who fail to master life's easiest tasks. No product will prevent as many of these spills as basic common sense would. "Is nothing easy?" one commercial demands after an errant elbow sends a whole bottle of laundry detergent to the floor. If your style of doing laundry is best described as "rampaging," then, no, nothing will be easy.
But then, apart from food and maybe medicine, what was the last thing you bought that you actually needed? Human beings are fairly simple creatures in terms of needs, but our lives as we live them, at least in America, necessitate quite a bit of wanting and quite a bit of anxiety. After 9/11, President Bush told us that our patriotic duty not to scrimp, save, or collect scrap tins to help the coming war effort, but it was our patriotic duty to consume.
This anxiety about what you're supposed to do when your biggest contribution to society is to consume isn't new. In April 1954, Galaxy magazine published "The Midas Plague," by the science fiction writer Frederick Pohl. The full text is available here (minimal SPOILING ahead!) but basically, Pohl imagines that after the robots begin doing all of our work for us, the only task left for humanity will be consumption.
Freed from necessity, however, consuming as much as it takes to keep the economy rolling is actually kind of a chore, which is why the burden of consumption falls mostly on the poor. The richer you are, the less you own and have to buy, until the main character comes up with the most wasteful, ouroboros of a solution as possible. Without giving too much away, as with Object Solutions, an "external tool is introduced" to fill the gap.
The aspect of Pohl's story that's least familiar today is that everyone's needs are met. But as Object Solutions indicates, if humanity every reaches the point where we don't need to make anything, we'll start making need.