It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to colossally fall on your face. It’s okay to epically break down, spin out, and lose control. Often it’s at these moments of sheer and utter crisis that we dig deep to find the grit and perspective to resurrect, stronger than before.
Architect Katerina Kamprani is proof that failure is, in fact, an option. The Athens-based artist is the mind behind the thought-provoking project The Uncomfortable, which came to be after she failed to finish her studies in industrial design at the University of Aegean.
“This has been a journey of failures, mistakes, and disappointments,” Kamprani said of her career path during a presentation she gave at TEDxPoznań in 2018. She recounted that her first mistake was studying architecture in the first place. Her second was pivoting to a field that was too technical, pursuing a masters in industrial design. Last on her laundry list of missteps was choosing to be an industrial designer in Greece of all places, which she says is a country without any industry that’s in a state of economic crisis.
But Kamprani wasn’t done failing just yet. After dropping out of her Master’s program after one semester, she got hired at an advertising firm in Athens, but was fired after just one month. “It was an epic failure that left me devastated,” she shared with the audience of her TED Talk. This all sounds pretty bleak, but don’t worry— cue the resurrection!
With this heap of blunders in her wake, Kamprani had the idea of intentionally applying failure to the design of everyday objects. “I started thinking, what if objects were actually designed for a bad user experience instead of a good user experience? That was my eureka moment,” her presentation continued. “I finally found something smart and funny that has no responsibility to be practical. That was the core idea: to not be practical.”
At its essence, The Uncomfortable is a collection of deliberately inconvenient everyday objects: A fork with a chain in the middle of its handle. Open-toe rain boots. A watering can whose spout faces in on itself. These designs start out as 3D renderings, and then some Kamprani manufactures into prototypes. “My goal is to deconstruct the invisible design language of simple everyday objects, and tweak their fundamental properties in order to surprise you and make you laugh,” she said. “But I also want it to help you appreciate the complexity and depth of interactions with the simplest of objects around us.”
Kamprani credits growing up in Greece, a country that she says is ten or even 20 years behind others, for this unique appreciation and perspective on design. She says her background allows her to notice things that others might not. “These days, everyone gets excited about innovation, but I try to shift the focus to things that we take for granted and are conventional.”
Kamprani’s ideation process for her “deliberately annoying” designs has changed over the years, since she first started in 2011. Back then, she struggled to think of objects in a different way, so she developed a methodology to generate ideas. “It involved analyzing the object and how users interact with them, and afterwards choosing to sabotage only one of these steps of interaction,” she told me. But as the project progressed, ideas started coming to her more naturally as she moved through her day-to-day life.
Humor is another key component of Kamprani’s project and her general worldview. “I really like humor as a creative outlet,” she said. “I also use humor as a coping mechanism; it makes me feel good. I enjoy surrealism and absurdity. To me, it’s just another way of thinking; it can be more freeing than logic. It doesn’t have the concept of right or wrong, so the possibilities are endless!” She hopes that her Uncomfortable designs bring joy to others as well. “I started this project for fun, so my purpose is to make people laugh and feel amused,” said Kamprani.
While The Uncomfortable has these light-hearted underpinnings, it simultaneously achieves an impressive level of profundity. “By showing faulty design, we can appreciate the objects we use everyday,” said Kamprani. “I hope this project stimulates an appreciation for the complexity and depth of interactions with the simplest of objects around us.” Plus with Kamprani’s many gaffes serving as the jumping off point for the project, she considers it to be a rebellious act. “Basically whatever I learned in design school, I went and did exactly the opposite,” she said in a 2018 interview with Culture Trip.
“I really enjoy the idea of mistakes and surprises,” Kamprani told me. “It’s complicated, but I think it stems from my fear of failure and my constant effort to be perfect. Although I never feel good when I fail, later on upon reflection, I appreciate a funny turn of events or an ironic mistake!”