selling surprise with added inflation


Over the weekend I’ve been sorting through a small design library. It’s been a case of weeding out the tired and weak examples, while reminding myself of the great and good in product and environmental design.


Some of the quotes and work examples I re-discovered in the collection of books and articles brought a smile; like seeing old friends that you’ve lost touch with over recent years.

There were articles, comments and statements of design intent from designers within the archive, including snippets reporting design shifts of the mid 1990’s through to the early 2000’s, such as:
– The move from mass production to mass customisation.
– The use of technology to create smart products.
– The range of designers applying new techniques to old materials, to new effect.
– The introduction of new materials offering performance efficiencies; such as benefits in reduced weight, strength or environmentally sustainable manufacture.

One item in particular did strike a chord. It was from the design company INFLATE.

Inflate have become synonymous with the design of inflatable objects since 1995; using high-frequency welding processes and then introducing dip-moulded objects to their portfolio.
In the article Inflate talked about their motivation to ‘sell surprise at no extra cost.” It’s a nice thought.


At the time of the article (2003), Inflate expressed their wish to make an impact; affecting design history and being referenced as a source of inspiration.

While struck by the hint of irony in this, as the team who create inflatable designs create products inherently unlikely to stand the test of time. An influence on design history is certainly something which Inflate have achieved; in the development of light, flexible and fun objects.
A check of their website seems to indicate that over the last decade the studio has attracted fewer briefs to develop consumer product ideas, such as the egg cups, bags, shoes, lighting or furniture that first built the design company’s name.


Instead their work increasingly appears to be represented through interior and exterior exhibition display space or office environment structures. The inherent fun and functional aspects of these designs explains much of their success. But I can’t help but wish that the designers showcased and sold a greater number of innovative and alternative everyday objects as a more substantial part of their repertoire.


The inflatable exhibition and work spaces do bring an innocent smile to the face of those lucky enough to experience them; their effect on adults is almost like that of a child approaching a bouncy castle. But I’d hoped the brand would have progressed into designing and distributing more common household items. Allowing families or those in designer homes to capture and experience the sense of the fun, surprise and inspiration admired in Inflate designs. Apparently the market (at least in terms of orders from retailers) didn’t catch on after such initial promise was successfully demonstrated.

So I’m hoping Inflate inspire more people to buy small objects of design history that they design. But perhaps Inflate should change their design ethos, and start to expect fewer of these surprises to be given away for free?

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