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pao hui kao product design 高寶惠 設計 design academy eindhoven
Sublime Imperfection
Value of imperfection

Can one thing preserve its beauty when it is flawed and imperfect?

Can flawed and incomplete part generate a new value when it is removed from its origin?


Sublime – an immeasurable realm. This sublime definition was firstly brought to the public by Kant. From Longinus, Edmund Berke to Kant, they had all seen it as a process of one evolving the unknown fears and pressures from the nature into something enjoyable through an aesthetic perspective. When applying this idea to the industrial society, there are a lot of routines and rules set for machines or our daily lives. However, even we have all those SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), the unexpected things happened in between are still surprising. Hence, we can define sublime in the modern time as – a complete picture is aroused in one’s head when seeing a damaged object. This overlap of reality and imagination is how I see this topic- Sublime Imperfection.

Unique because incomplete

As a result of industrialization, a mold can produce hundreds of thousands of identical products in a day. Each step is carefully designed and monitored to ensure that every product is exactly the same when done. These beautiful delicate products are sold all over the world, could be ending up in your house or my house. A brilliant innovative product can become ordinary when it is reproduced for countless time and can be found anywhere. However, as soon as we start using it, we leave our own traces on it. The traces are the things that recreate the product itself as something unique with personal touch.

Definition of incompletion

Incompletion is the result of comparing an object after some changes are made to it. An object can leave difference impressions after it goes through uncontrollable damages. For instance, when one sees a plate that is split in half, an image of a complete plate will be instantly associated, since from experiences a plate has always been a round shape. However, it is crucial that the viewer has the ability to associate the original state of a damaged object when he/she sees it. If one is not able to picture the original complete image, then the reference point cannot stand for comparison.

Relationship between completion and incompletion

“The Protestant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is located in Berlin which was built in the 1890s. It was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943. The present building, which consists of a church with an attached foyer and a separate belfry with an attached chapel, was built between 1959 and 1963. The damaged spire of the old church has been retained and its ground floor has been made into a memorial hall. “-Wikipedia

A church which is damaged is still a church. The meaning of its existence does not vary. The essence of a church remains the same even when its outer appearance has been damaged, hence incomplete. Although a new church has new function and meaning to replace the old one, from historical and cultural perspectives the new church is the incomplete one. Therefore, both old and new churches are indispensable. Replacement is the way to synchronization. The same religion or the same element continuously present in the timeline. Replacement does not make the past traces disappear; on the contrary, it enhances them. Both old and new are equally important. One will not be recognized when it stands on its own. One example is the Protestant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church located in Berlin. It was badly damaged in a bombing in 1943. In order to provide enough space for people, a new chapel was built attached to the old one. However, the renovation did not impact people’s belief. It only symbolized the overlap of the past and the presence.

Connection between Completion and incompletion

People learn the outside world to a better degree by accumulating experiences which then provide a better base for future experiences. When you need to drink some water you already know from previous experiences that a cup is a better container for liquids and it also provides the most comfort for the hand. With this in mind the cup has become the ultimate solution for transporting liquids, so if a cup is unavailable then people with aim to find something that has a similar shape or similar attributes to a cup to use as a substitute.

An object with complete appearance not only represents a substantial functionality but also matches the cognitive image of it. From the user’s perspective, the entire shape of the object will show the main functionality of the cup, for example, a mug which is filled with water is put onto the table and its appearance automatically gives information to people of not just its visual aspects but also of its functionality and uses. When people talk about Coca-Cola, straight away images are sent to the brain, such as the brands color scheme and logo, the brown liquid inside. If the coke one bought has any difference from its image towards it, he/she will notice it right away that it is not the authentic coke. From this perspective, the completion of an object is the combination of the images in the impression and the actual experience.

When an object is damaged and incomplete, it can no longer represent the status when it was complete. The obstacle for the viewer to picture the complete image occurs. The viewer cannot link the complete image with the damaged one he/she is seeing on the spot. Therefore, he/she will try to look for the complete image in the memory to picture the missing parts of the object. For example, when seeing a mug without a handle, the user will define it as an object can be held with hand based on the remaining parts. The users also tend to give the damaged and missing parts a proper function and definition of the use. Like the statue of Venus de Milo without her right arm. No one ever knows what it looks like or how its fingers and wrist pose. It is this mystery leaves people endless imagination towards the great piece of art.

According to the Questionnaires, every tester has different imagination about missing arm of Milo Venus.

Sublime Imperfection

Sublime is an actual image of an object no matter the object itself is complete or incomplete. The incompletion is a result of damages but meanwhile the damages form its own beauty. The Protestant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a good example that shows the unique state after surviving the bombing. The beauty before the damages was its completion. The beauty after the damages is the overlap between imagination and reality. To describe a complete state with incompletion is sublime Imperfection.

Sublime Imperfection happens after a complete object is damaged. When an object is no longer complete, the original image does not exist anymore. The incompletion forces the separation of its image and figure. The original image has been giving a new face to its existence. The viewer then pictures the complete image when seeing the damaged object, piece by piece until it is complete in the head. Under this circumstance, imperfection is the result of damages done to an object.  

Sublime is the imagination towards the damaged object for its original complete shape. Therefore, Sublime Imperfection can be interpreted as the imagination of imperfection towards perfection. A damaged object tends to arouse unlimited imagination to the viewers. The famous painting “Danae” from Rembrandt was internally damaged by knifes and chemicals. However, the combination of the parts where the paint fell out and the original painting has brought out a whole new artistic expression. People who do not know the original painting have the chance to appreciate the new piece of art, people who are familiar with the original one then trigger the memory of its original face.

Design the Balance of the Process

Some damaged objects were chosen to conduct this design research. The research purpose is to analyze the relationship and distinction between the incomplete and complete parts of one object. Firstly, in order to separate an object into two individual existences, a clear definition for parts that are complete or incomplete of an object should be established. Meanwhile, the complete and incomplete are actually both incomplete as a result of being separated from one object. The next step is to clarify which part is complete and which part is otherwise to make sure the complete part is well reserved. Then the incomplete part can be analyzed to see how it can be fixed or repaired for it to function again as a complete object.






Sublime imperfection sustains when two states – complete and incomplete exist at the same time. A damaged object can be considered as perfect when the damaged part is removed from it. And the removed part can be considered as perfect after it goes through the designed repairing process.

There are two necessary elements for Sublime imperfection. First is a defected object. Second is the destruction to divide it into two parts. The destruction is an action that must be executed when creating sublime imperfection. By doing so, the perfect and flawed parts of an object are being separated into two individual objects, hence to bring out the balance between them. The part which has the flawed part removed becomes unique and arose the viewer to picture its original image in the head. This reaction from the viewer brings the idea of sublime imperfection to a whole new level. The part which is damaged and being removed goes through a series of fixing processes to reach a complete state for full functioning ability. The repairing has given the defected object a new life to serve its purpose as an object again.

pao hui kao product design 高寶惠 design academy eindhoven
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