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10 Questions to Ask When Designing Pottery for Use

Michael Kline considered every detail when designing these bowls, including how they would stack when not in use.

Something every functional potter should consider when designing pots that are intended to be used, is how well the pot works with the anatomy of the user. In other words, are your pots comfortable and easy to use? When potters carefully consider things like the thickness of the lip of a mug or the placement and size of a handle on a pitcher, it can make the difference between a pot that gets used often or one that gets avoided.


Robin Hopper, who wrote the book on functional pottery (quite literally – he is the author of Functional Pottery: Form and Aesthetic in Pots of Purpose), is back again today with ten questions that every functional potter should ask themselves when designing pots for use. Post these in your studio so you remember them every time you make a new pot! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


Form and Function
Functional pottery is made for people to use and many potters feel that the pot isn’t complete until it is physically used for its job. If it is to do its job totally, it should be efficient, easy to use, comfortable in the hands, and give pleasure to the user at the same time. One should consider how it is to be used and what parts of the human anatomy will be in contact with it for optimum satisfaction on all counts. Judging by a large volume of pottery that one finds in the marketplace, a great number of potters and pottery manufacturers seldom consider the anatomy of the user when making their wares.



10 Questions to Ask When Designing Functional Pottery

1. Are the top rims and the edges of the handles sharp to the touch for either lips or fingers? Any parts of the pot that come into contact with parts of the body should be smooth.
2. Is the curvature at the top of a drinking vessel suitable for drinking from? Does it curve in or out, or is it straight up? For optimum function, there should be a slight curve outward so that liquid flows easily from the vessel into the mouth and does not dribble.
3. Is the shape of the object suitable to be held or drunk from?
4. Does the handle have sufficient room for fingers? Handles should have room for average-sized fingers (granted, hands come in all shapes and sizes, but the thickness of the thickest part of the average fore finger is about 1 inch). If handles are too big, it will likely feel awkward and look awkward.
5. Does the handle fit the hand, or do the fingers have to conform to the handle?
6. Is the width of the mouth of a drinking vessel too large or too small? For comfortable drinking, the width of the mouth of a drinking vessel should be no more than the distance from the lips to the bridge of the nose (see image above).
7. Does the shape of the pot need handles to fulfill its intended use?
8. Does the sound or texture of the surface aggravate the user?
9. Does the object as designed get too hot to hold? If your piece is designed for hot liquid, you might want to adjust the thickness of the walls, or attach a handle so that hands don’t get burnt.
10. Could it work better and be more comfortable to use than it is?


These tips are excerpted from Robin Hopper’s popular book, Functional Pottery
, available now in the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore.


Robin Hopper and his wife Judi Dyelle own and operate Chosin Pottery in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Visit www.chosinpottery.ca to see images of their work and learn more about Chosin Pottery.