Chubby Design Catalogue
Book Design

This brief began with an interest in interior design, after research and idea development the concept evolved into designing a catalogue for the niche style of furniture called Neotenic or “Chubby” design. Known for its use of bold, voluminous forms and playful characteristics, it seemed only right that the book mimic these aesthetics through the considered use of colour, shape and user experience. The main focus of the book is to promote/advertise and hopefully inform a wider audience on the youthful joy this style of furniture design can bring into any space. To achieve this,the book had to be intriguing and whimsical, it had to capture the essence of such design. Hence the rounded corners, bright cover, and incorporation of childlike user interactions.
The origins of Neotenic design lay within scientific research of emotional responses to certain features and characteristics such as oversized forms, wide eyes and round shapes - specifically how we are subconsciously moved by them. “Neoteny” is the word that science has used to describe the prolongation or retention of these childlike features. The term was then adopted to other uses of such phenomenon, in this case sculpture, specifically furniture.
The final outcome, a catalogue aptly titled “Chubby Design”, (accompanied by a clay stand) seeks to encourage the child in all of us and indulge in our playful natures by eliciting a similar emotional response to that of neoteny itself.

Human beings are subconsciously moved by big eyes, round heads, chubby cheeks and pudgy extremities. It is widely believed that when we see them, the amygdala initiates a surge of nurturing affection, telling us that we are encountering a child and should conduct ourselves accordingly. Only, the amygdala is evolutionarily quite old and easily fooled. We experience similar sensations whether we are looking at baby humans, baby animals, cute cartoons, or even inanimate objects such as tables or chairs. Scientists have known about this phenomenon for a long time. In 1872, Charles Darwin speculated that the affection we feel for infants might be due in part to “inherited habit”.

In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin wrote: “Although the emotion of love, for instance, that of a mother for her infant, is one of the strongest of which the mind is capable, it can hardly be said to have any proper or peculiar means of expression; and this is intelligible, as it has not habitually led to any special line of action. No doubt, as affection is a pleasurable sensation, it generally causes a gentle smile and some brightening of the eyes. A strong desire to touch the beloved person is commonly felt, and love is expressed by this means more plainly than by any other. Hence we long to clasp in our arms those whom we tenderly love. We probably owe this desire to inherited habit, in association with the nursing and tending of our children, and with the mutual caresses of lovers.”

“Neoteny” is the word that science has used to describe the prolongation or retention of these childlike features. It was coined in 1885 to describe the (now critically endangered) Mexican axolotl salamander. Unlike most amphibians, the axolotl does not undergo metamorphosis; rather than shedding its juvenile gills and moving to the land, it retains them and keeps them to the water.

The word was bandied about in evolutionary biology circles during the 20th century and peaked in usage during the 1980s when the academic and pop scientist Stephen Jay Gould used neoteny to explain everything from cartoon characters to the humanisation of our species (bigger brains, flatter faces). There are three features that are common to neotenic furniture design objects, however: thickened forms; soft or rounded terminations; and mono-materials.

At its most basic, a pudgier version of a familiar form will read as a baby version of that form. Researchers find that “cuteness is as much an elicitor of play as it is of care. It is as likely to trigger a childlike state as a parental one.” They go on to state that “regardless of whether the cuteness response originally arose to increase the welfare of one’s own offspring, it is not best characterised as a direct releaser of caretaking behaviours, but rather as a direct releaser of human sociality.” This means that we may be self-limiting our higher brain functions in the presence of childlike or cartoonish things, easing back on adult judgement and anxiety. If such forms do in fact increase play and “affiliative” tendencies, then neotenic design might become one of the 21st century’s best strategies for connecting people to the objects around them on an emotional level.

The final outcome of the catalogue is made up of 25 (primarily double-sided) pages, with various neotenic design content to promote, celebrate, advertise and supply its reader with a playful, interactive browsing experience.
This has been achieved through the considered use of soft shapes, bold colours, rounded typographical components, and familiar childlike user interactions such as cutouts, envelopes, pop-ups and textural experiences.

Its title: Chubby Design, was intentionally kept simple and to the point, but using the word Chubby rather than Neotenic ensures that unfamiliar audiences are able to envision what kind of design characteristics are shown throughout. By using this familiar term, the catalogue hopes to engage a wider audience during their initial viewing so that they are encouraged to browse further and learn about this niche style of furniture design and the joy it can bring.

Paying close attention to popular catalogue designs and trending neotenic furniture pieces was important, so as to keep the catalogue relevant and user-friendly, but also making sure to bring its own uniqueness and playful nature to layouts and formats seen in widespread furniture catalogues through its specialised combination of interactive features and unusual shapes, forms and content.

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