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Looking at the items I’ve talked about so far, especially the rubber ones, I’m trying to understand why holding a phone-shaped object in my hand seems to spark more ideas than looking at an upshaped material sample. I hasten to add that this post is extremely speculative, but I think it’s something to do with the clash between expectation based on shape and experience of mobile phones, and the reality of the material itself.

There’s something about the proportions of a mobile that says, very loudly, “this is a mobile phone.” In fact, this holds true for all kinds of distinctively proportioned shapes: Television (4:3), postcards (3:2), cinema (16:9) and more. I’ve sketched some below.

Some familiar proportions.

The sense of expectation is so strong that as soon as we encounter something shaped like a mobile phone, we start to treat it as a mobile phone. The shape stands in for the whole mental symbol of “phone.” When people see our wooden phone templates (shown in the post on fabric), for example, they often put one to their ear. It’s only natural to do so.

The flipside of this expectation is that it’s hard to see exactly what’s wrapped up in that single symbol.

It’s easier to explain what I mean if we consider a different, strong symbolic shape. When you watch television, you look at the picture through the TV and not at the device itself… but how much is the plastic box itself bringing to the experience? How can you tell?

Consider typography: Letterforms are extremely strong symbols. Think about the training typographers have to see the arrangement of the material comprising the letters (ink, neon tubes) and its properties as a material (perhaps it dominates the illustrations on the page, or connotes a feeling of modernity) rather than reading the letters themselves.

My question about the mobile phone is: To what degree does my historic experience of mobile phones influence my impressions of and my interactions with this particular physical thing? What is contingent upon the physical object?

By having objects that make you expect mobile-phoneness but then strongly conflict with that expectation, like the high-friction rubber surfaces, this question can be drawn out. In that sense, the silicone rubber material exploration is very simple: It’s about awkwardness and conflict, just to see what it revealed.

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