Everything is design. Every day is design…And the paper clip proves it!

Published: 29 May, 2018

Categories: General

Everything is design. Every day is design…And the paper clip proves it!

Design is innately creative. It imagines, it crafts, it moulds and shapes our experience of the world, whether we are aware of it or not. Design also affects our lives in creative ways – it enables and empowers us to function more effectively from day to day, and its usefulness is derived from its simple elegance.

Rather, that’s what good design is and does.

I’m sure we have all encountered the frustration of precariously navigating bad design. When Apple released its Airpod headphones, the cries of frustration from customers could be heard from the far corners of the earth. Why? Because these headphones were impractical, despite being touted as a technological evolution. Technology may have evolved, but the experience of it was a devolved one. Needless to say, bad design will affect us badly in our day-to-day experiences.

So what makes good design?

American art director and graphic designer Paul Rand writes that, “Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.” Our interface with the world is encapsulated in design. We see it in the genius of smartphone technology (though Apple’s Airpods are not necessarily the best example to cite here), in the efficiency of household appliances, and in the simplicity of the humble paper clip.

When considering how good design affects us, I am reminded of the pure genius of the paper clip.


Watching paper clips getting manufactured is an entertaining and mildly satisfying spectacle to behold, and I do recommend you find a clip of this on YouTube, but it is an excellent example of how good design affects our lives. Invented some time in the late 19th Century, the endurance of this thrice bent piece of steel wire has continued into the 21st century as the most clearly identified office supply next to a stapler and a highlighter. What makes the paper clip endure is its versatility. Being from the MacGyver generation, I marvelled as this much-beloved TV character reconfigured a paper clip to repair a motherboard, not to mention pick a lock. And when I learned how to bake a cherry pie, I watched my grandmother pit fresh cherries with the help of a paper clip. Despite all these amazing adaptive uses, its pure genius lies in its efficient purpose – a paper clip binds paper together, and doesn’t take up too much space in our desk drawer. Purpose fulfilled! And we are better for having it.

Over a century after its design, we still know about the humble paper clip, and it is affecting our everyday lives in more technologically advanced ways than its physical form. How? It’s upgraded from analogue to digital. When graphic designers were developing e-mail interfaces, the symbol they chose to indicate the attachment of files to mails was none other than… the paper clip.

So, when you next consider that design, good or bad, is beyond our everyday experience, think again. Remember the paper clip.


Written by

Mary-Anne Potter

Inscape Lecturer