Banal Genius

Sam Hecht’s intriguing Under a Fiver collection highlights the ingenuity and folly of some of the world’s most inexpensive objects.

It’s one thing to make a well-made, functional object that looks good. It’s a bigger challenge to have it manufactured in the millions and cost close to nothing. Since the mid-1990s, the industrial designer Sam Hecht has traveled the globe searching out local hardware stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies to amass a curious collection of low-cost, mass-produced objects costing less than five pounds (about seven dollars). It’s part of his Under a Fiver collection. “It’s not about luxury or conspicuous consumption, so the room to maneuver is very small,” he says of his finds, which now number around 200. “You’re dealing with often extremely primordial, basic activities. On a local level, I started to notice different ways of doing these everyday activities, like brushing teeth or washing vegetables.” The items generally serve a specific purpose; few involve a designer; and not all of them work particularly well. “They make a promise, generally a functional one,” he says, pointing to a two-in-one potato peeler and grater that at first glance seems like a good idea. “You can peel potatoes, but the surface of the handle is a grater as well. But you can’t hold it because it’s incredibly uncomfortable, cutting your hand. There’s a feeling of extending the product’s quality on the manufacturer’s terms and failing miserably.” Hecht’s curiosity about the things people aren’t necessarily paying much attention to has helped him and his firm, Industrial Facility, cofounded with Kim Colin, design products that work for companies such as Herman Miller, Muji, and Established & Sons. We asked Hecht to talk about a few Under a Fiver products, both good and bad, a selection of which Rizzoli is publishing this year in a forthcoming book.

What Is Good Design

Good Is Sustainable
Good Is Accessible
Good Is Functional
Good Is Well Made
Good Is Emotionally Resonant
Good Is Enduring
Good Is Socially Beneficial
Good Is Beautiful
Good Is Ergonomic
Good Is Affordable

The New Reality

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