Subtle Individuality

Teresa Lourie

A modified chess set that uses uniform pieces constructed with subtle tactile differences to explore the role appearance plays in human society.

Subtle Individuality challenges users by reminding them that appearances provide limited information, and a close examination of character, through personal interaction, is needed to evaluate a human being. To reflect this, at first glance, the chess set is made up of identical pieces. While every piece looks the same, the identities of the pieces must be deduced by processes more involved than simply looking. 

The set is made out of wood and employs a standard board, standard rules, and standard distribution of pieces. However, the pieces are identical in appearance. Their hollow construction allows for each piece to be filled with varying levels of either sand or metal nuts. The combination of these two variables creates a distinct profile for each of the six chess archetypes.

Instead of being able to judge the state of the board at a glance, players will have to evaluate the board by holding and feeling the pieces. The difference between the pieces can be observed through weight, sound, and impact by shaking or rolling the pieces in the player's hand. This slows down the player and causes them to give more attention to each piece, compelling them to re-examine how they evaluate other human beings during first impressions.

The work we have done in this studio has shown me a deeper meaning of the word "design." The way something is made and what it is made out of can have social and political implications without ever explicitly stating so. The way a chair is designed may express who was meant to sit in it.