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Abstract Affinity

When Picasso first juxtaposed various perspectives of the woman’s face onto a single canvas, people accused him for ruining the beauty of the model; when Pollock dripped the house paint spontaneously, people frowned in searching for figurative representations; when Miro doodles the shapes and lines, people responded to the faces and eager to decoding the rest “symbols”; when Kandinsky smudged paints into compositions, people started to read the colors as emotions. The evolution and breakthrough in art and design history has always been the alternative of reconciliation and denial.

In the book Emotional Design, Donald Norman talks about the three levels of processing: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. Innovation is the result of the three levels’ battle.

Human, as a species of animal, is born with the prepared brain, as a pre-programmed operating system that distinguish the good from the bad. Despite the social, cultural, personal experiences, and so forth, the program is always there for us, to reconcile or deny.

Norman creates the list of situations and objects that can bring positive affect:

warm, comfortable lit places,

temperate climate,

sweet tastes and smells,

bright, highly saturated hues,

“soothing” sounds and simple melodies and rhythms,

harmonious music and sounds,


smiling faces,

rhythmic beats,

“attractive” people,

symmetrical objects,

rounded, smooth objects,

“sensuous” feelings, sounds, and shapes.

...Opposingly the automatic negative affect:


sudden, unexpected loud sounds or bright lights,

“looming” objects (objects that appear to be about to hit the observer),

extreme hot or cold,


extremely bright lights or loud sounds,

empty, flat terrain (deserts),

crowded dense terrain (jungles or forests),

crowds of people,

rotting smells, decaying foods,

bitter tastes,

sharp objects,

harsh, abrupt sounds,

grating and discordant sounds,

misshapen human bodies,

snakes and spiders,

human faces (and its smell),

other people’s body fluids,


In the survey I created on jigsaw puzzles for a new product, there is a question: “What will make you to buy another (the first) jigsaw puzzles”. Most people chose “My favorite subject being made”, instead of the challenging and analytical aspects.

In my designs, mostly tabletop and furniture, the inspirations often come from nature or the objects that people can make associations of - the objects of affinity. With the institutional training of what “should” be beautiful aesthetically, or being critical formally, I respond to things that make me happy. Of course again beautiful and happy vary according to people’s experiences, yet nature always consists the most reasonable emotions among all.

Below are some great designs that reflect the abstract affinity.

Welldone Dobre Rzeczy, Sheepad

Garay Studio, Mush Lamp

Julie Gaillard Design, Dindon Magnetik

Julie Gaillard Design, Play'te Service

George Nelson, Marshmallow Sofa

Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate

Jonathan Adler, Muse collection

I believe that the simplest yet hardest user experience is to make them smile. Design is meant to trigger the sweet memory of their lives, and the abstract affinity can be a firm bridge to walk across.

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