Objects that have developed alternative uses


I am currently studying for a master’s in Interaction Design and am investigating how we attach emotions to inanimate objects.

Currently I am looking at how objects can take on new functions through user interpretation, desire and need. An example of this is using a beer mat to prop up a wobbly table. Another example could be using a chair as a ladder. These uses were not originally considered in the design of the product but through user experience it can be said that if you are sitting at a wobbly table in a pub the first thing you do is look for a beer mat or if you need to change a lightbulb but can’t reach and don’t have a ladder then you look for a chair.

I am looking for you lovely people to suggest other objects that have taken on alternative uses through user experience. Objects that were designed for one purpose but we now equally associate them for alternative uses.


Moved to General Discussion because I think you will get better responses up here.

Stack of graph paper as a mousepad (because the table top is glass) :angry:
drilled holes in the benchtop for holding screwdrivers
snowboards remanufactured as benches up at the ski resorts
$ 0.25 quarter for removing the back of my wristwatch to change the battery
classic student shelving made of hollow tile cement blocks and plywood


Milk Crates!

About 15 years ago I got a $100 watch that came in a sweet spun aluminum cylinder… it’s been holding Q-tips on my bathroom counter since then… it has long outlasted the watch!

I’ve been using the casing for an alarm clock as a desk tidy for quite some time

Old shoeboxes often tend to get used somewhere.
and perhaps most notoriously - Supermarket bags as trash bin liners!

Last year I gave this assignment (other use of a current product) to my students with mixed results :wink:

Check them out for inspiration:
http://www.atohms.be/HEMA_1IO_PIH_howest_2009.pdf (in dutch, srry)

I think there’s some mighty good ones.


That file seems corrupt/not working.

There’s a book devoted to this topic, It had loads of pictures. The first few chapters are pretty dry, they basically outline what improvised uses for things is and what it is not, they even had a name for it. Using a pen to scratch your head was improvised but making a head scratcher from pens was not, quite an interesting read. You may have already read it.

If i remember what it was called i will either put the title on here or pm you.

Some good suggestions coming through.

Perhaps if I can get a bit more specific I am interested in objects that have taken on a use that does not come close to their original design. The example of a cup, bowl, pot, or boot as a flower pot is appropriate to describe what I am not really talking about. All these products are designed to have something put into them, they have a similar affordance.

A screwdriver used as a staple remover is a good example. The screwdriver is designed to slot into an object and twist not to lever an object.

“hpy” - if you could remember the name of the book it’d be great, it sounds like it’d worth a look.

Thanks for all the great feedback so far.

We manufacture lights, so we have loads of old circuit board prototypes laying about.

perfect coasters/ business cards.

Fixed…Srry about that.


Also the works featured are by 1st graders. This shows that everybody can have a good idea. We can only teach how to develop them in good products :wink:

Awesome pdf. Very fun and inspiring! Thanks

saints fans are not using bags like this anymore

I’ve also (somewhat recently_ come across a blog covering this exact same thing. I’ll see if I can dig up the link. For sure there has been a lot covered on the topic.

I recall some of the examples included things like a plastic waterbottle used as a bike mudflap, a binderclip to hold a cell phone charger attached, countless Altoids tins uses, etc.


I’ve used milk crates for the records, metal band-aid boxes for needles, 100 pack cd spindle covers for marker/pencil holders, cinder blocks of course for college furniture, chairs for dips, pushpins as keyhooks, twisty ties as key identifiers, and of course duct tape for everything.


How about yellowpages phone books as laptop stand when using external keyboard.

Harbour Freight tools as paperweights?..or they all eventually become hammers. I kid.

Toothpaste to clean jewelry?

Rain umbrella to photography umbrella for light control/shaping.


Most of it is lame/funny, but I’m sure there are some gems in there as well.