Storytelling with found objects


When I saw Christoph Niemann‘s recent piece in the New York Times, I LEGO N.Y., I was struck by the way that simple physical objects, accompanied by text, can beautifully illustrate ideas.

Both images are from Christoph Niemann’s I LEGO N.Y.. He has a blog called Abstract City on

At Cooper, I find that I’m often looking for new ways to activate design thinking, or to clearly and directly represent ideas. It can be easy to think too literally, to work over the same terrain again and again, and this is why I’m inspired by work like Niemann’s — it gets back to basics. It speaks clearly, but also invites interpretation. It reminds me of Bill Buxton’s discussion of “storytelling with found objects” in Sketching User Experiences:

As a child, when your parents got a new refrigerator, did you not take the box and transform it into a fort or spaceship? We have all seen and done such things — made free associations between objects and their meaning and purpose. The key observation here is that such transformations are as fundamental to design thinking as they are to childhood imagination and discovery.

I’m curious to hear from the design community: Are there techniques that you’ve used to radically reconsider familiar concepts? Or to vastly simplify the communication of your ideas?

Doug LeMoine

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