By Sean Ferry, Senior Producer Creative Development Department
It started off as a joke. While the Creative Development Department sat at the captain’s table of Fahrenheit 212, they passed ideas around for the annual “dirty Santa,” and in an environment where individuals are challenged to exceed expectations, the outcome of “nailing it” is practically expected. Meg came up with the winner. “Hammers!” she exclaimed, and the experiment was on.
“Dirty Santa” is your basic white elephant gift exchange. A group draws consecutive numbers and the corresponding participant either picks a wrapped gift from the table or steals one that has been opened. On this particular Thursday, participants sat at the table while working off, as best they could, the lingerings of the previous night’s holiday party. At the center of attention, beautifully wrapped packages of various shapes and sizes enticed those participating. Once the exchange began, a few of the usual suspects appeared; a pack of playing cards, a Snuggie, a kitschy pair of salt and pepper shakers. Then came the first hammer: a glorious shaft of pink with reverse pokadots exposing the hickory wood beneath. The head sparkled with the sheen of freshly spewed glitter. A variety of comments appeared ranging from spot on – “Nailed it!”; to disappointment – “What?”; to completely ridiculous – “Is this from a Brooklyn hardware store?” Still, no one knew quite what to make of this lone hammer.
Let’s back up and speak about the seven hammers that remained in their enchanting packaging. As joke gifts go, this one fits the bill and is not a serious stand out. What makes it fascinating is the transformation from blank canvas to singular work, from neutral object to a reflection of the self. Each member took their hammer and scurried about the office for three days, laboring over a creative statement while hiding it from the rest of the office. “Don’t spoil the surprise.” For many, this was more labor than they bargained for. The harder that they worked on it, the more it became a personal statement disguised as a play on words. Each artist continually surprised the other with a level of detail that more than nailed it.
All right, back to the table and where the gift exchange and the interest of our experiment continue. As a few more hammers materialize, a new order emerges. What started as a one off becomes a possible set. What began as a “lump of coal in the stocking” evolves into a proverbial golden ticket. What was a joke, is now a coveted object. But the transition isn’t instantaneous. Some participants still fear the possibility of picking a wrapped hammer, while others attempt to steal ones already in play; each time a hammer gets stolen, its increased value transfers to the others. For many players, it seems better to acquire the known than prospect the table for possibilities. Only four hammers are exposed, but the connection to the eight members of the creative team is not fully realized.
As the exchange comes to a close, all hammers are chosen and stolen up to their limit (three steals per gift). Participants eyeball, caress and even sniff the hammers, contemplating an everyday object that has been crafted beyond its usual meaning – a modification that gives permission to revisit the familiar with fresh eyes. The experiment establishes once again the scarcity principle and the value of ownership. But maybe there is something more. Maybe this value is proof of another force. Maybe, just maybe, we all witnessed the power of design.
- Available now: Print Magazine’s Guest Art Director Digital Collection
- Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic give a live DesignCast on The Design of Dissent. Register now!
- Get an inside look at logo design from Chermayeff & Geismar
- Design TV: Improve your design skills with help from experts in the design industry.