Connect is a multivalent word that carries several potential meanings
depending upon the context in which it is used: a connection may be
a physical link, a personal relationship or an intellectual reference to
something else. In design, the physical connection may be a structural
component like a joint or a seam. Connection may also reside in the
emotional response an object evokes in its user or in the references the
object makes to history or to other concepts and forms in the realms of
science, nature or art.
The most minimal of objects carries a message that offers the potential
for connection. As a visual language that connects the object to the
human being, the details of design express the potential to serve our
human purposes and fulfill our needs and desires. The particularity of
detail—the exact radius of a curve, the specific nature of the material,
the shape and heft of an adjustment mechanism—connect the intention
of the object’s designer to its user and give the object value and meaning.
When we interact with a work chair, we perhaps feel affection for our
chair because of the way it greets our body and its swift response to any
adjustment. We become attached to our tablets, smartphones and laptops
because they are designed with an assiduous attention to the details that
“connect” with the human hand and eye and intellect, creating what we
know as the user experience. Ideally, detail is thoughtful and essential, a
vocabulary of form that makes structural, functional, psychological and
cultural connections that we can perceive with our senses and grasp
with the tools of our intelligence and our intuition. We know immediately
what an object is for and how to use it.
The concept of connection in design is perhaps most evident in its physical
aspect, in the joinery of a chair or the points at which the legs of a sofa
intersect with its seat, which may be either concealed or revealed. At
this level, detail mediates between different parts or between the part
and the whole. But even these physical connections offer evidence of
prior, more abstract connection, between idealized form and material
reality, between human concepts and values and their expression in the
objects we make and use.