Promoting round corners

A culture’s design says a lot about that culture’s mindset. One example from the Scandinavian design tradition you may not be aware of is the absence of corners in Piet Hein’s super elliptical table.

The design without sharply defined corners enables everyone to seamlessly sit next to each other around the table, with a less pointed-out difference of “who’s at the end of the table”. Being neither round nor rectangular changes the dynamics.

And while we’re on the subject of seating, have you noticed the difference when talking to people sitting opposite you compared to sitting shoulder by shoulder on a bench or while walking or driving – talking and heading in the same direction?

Brene Brown in her book Dare to lead talks about the position at the table when you have conversations: preferring not to sit across from the other person, but instead sitting next to each other.

You will notice how it changes the interaction – looking in the same direction, shoulder to shoulder, being united in whatever needs to happen – compared to being on opposite sides facing each other, like a tug-of-war.

It may be my Danish blood, because when I’m with clients or prospects, I definitely prefer sitting next to each other – and now you may have an idea about what the table looks like, too? Correct, we’re at a Piet Hein table with no sharply defined corners – the context being neither round nor rectangular.

For those of you ready to go down the rabbit hole of the super-ellipse, here is a bit more to enjoy – using Piet Hein’s combination of poetry and science:

The super-ellipse was named by the Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein (1905–1996) though he did not discover it as it is sometimes claimed. In 1959 he won a city planning design challenge for a roundabout and Piet Hein’s winning proposal was based on a super-ellipse. As he explained it:

Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then stumbles over. In the whole pattern of civilization, there have been two tendencies, one toward straight lines and rectangular patterns and one toward circular lines. There are reasons, mechanical and psychological, for both tendencies. Things made with straight lines fit well together and save space. And we can move easily — physically or mentally — around things made with round lines. But we are in a straitjacket, having to accept one or the other when often some intermediate form would be better. The super-ellipse solves the problem. It is neither round nor rectangular, but in between. Yet it is fixed, it is definite — it has a unity.

Enjoy making your corners round this week!

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