Originally this was a writing which I produced while working on an interaction project at school. Although the piece wasn’t used in anyway within the “presentation” of the project, it helped frame the scope and ethos of what we (myself and my partner Jamie) were looking to do. I’ll warn you, I do go off the rails a little bit in there (I had been reading some Dunne and Raby / Sudjic, and fancied myself quite intelligent), but it was enjoyable to critique the profession a little and to splurge some thoughts onto the page.
We consider that by changing small things, big things will follow. The simple act of opening a door for someone else, creates an interaction between the space (doorway), object (door) and the individuals. The significance contained within the words ‘thank you,’ or even a short smile of thanks, shared between the two people is an act which can facilitate greater improvements throughout society. Although these acts may be considered as the general principal of politeness, it is better conceptualized as empathy for the purpose of analysis. Any one who is better able to consider themselves in the position of another, is more willing to act in a manner they would wish other to act towards them. Then the question becomes not “how can we make people more polite to one-another?” A question unsolvable in its attempt to control the actions of people, but rather “how can we promote empathy through our surroundings, interactions, and environments?”
One of the first lessons a student learns is to call a concept a ‘product’ when talking to peers, professors and clients. This is known to allow a concept to be taken more seriously as a concrete conceptualization of an idea. This is seen as somewhat the norm, and totally accepted, but—as designers—when we look at the choice of words with our implicit knowledge of emotion and engagement, what do we see? The word product instantaneously puts upon us, the need to sell, to gratify and be led by design language which produces the most marketable, most sellable item. It imbibes our ideas and ideals with the juxtaposition at the core of the profession, with which it has yet to fully deal with. To create, or to produce? If we were to take things which we create and conceptualize them under the name of causes, or origins, informative objects which communicate societies attitudes towards each other and itself, perhaps we would be more selective with how we choose to form, color and produce these objects.
Next we must take the conceptualization of the people who interact with these objects. We have learned to call them users, although consumers is used (but often, ironically, frowned upon). The word “users” has a sound basis as a model for naming this group, allowing us to concentrate our efforts and method of design on those who will use the object. It allows us to think ergonomically, aesthetically, and of functionally to an extent, but it does not allow us to think of them as individuals. We divorce the nature of humans and ourselves from our designs by looking at targets of people, a selectively aggressive word. Let us instead refer to our users as beings, or personalities—words evoking imagery of one individual among many, with a network of relationships and emotions.
It makes sense to a degree, the age of the modern designer came with the industrialization of the world, and the two go hand in hand. When we look at other professions who create items (for example artists or architects—both professions from which ours stems, but both of which are extraordinarily older and more academically mature than our own). They tend less to define their works purely by the model of its marketability, but rather by the place it takes in context to the rest of the world, or by its value as an item which causes a dialogue. The history of these professions has not only led to a maturing discourse and critique of the works produced, but also to a (mostly) shared set of ethics and morality. For a second, let us compare two professions, design and medicine. The ethics and morals which form the base of the medical field, such as the hippocratic oath, are central to the professions understanding of itself and the way the outside world understands it.
This ethical protection is something which no medical professional can or should ever break, and although as our society evolves, new ethical debates are raised and change how we understand this relationship, it is clear they give the field a framework within which to protect itself from outside interference, and a clear way for it to place itself in perspective within society. Although these may not be always be agreed upon across the board, they set a standard, and allow us to view the medical field in context as unpartisan life-savers.
As designers we are taught our special place in the world is to be the bridge between other professions, and to protect the user. Caught where we are now, between delivering a product to a client, and following our individual ideals…What code of ethics are there, what morals? We as a profession have none, no guiding moral-compass we all adhere to. And so although the world looks at us as the makers and builders of the objects which surround them, they also look to us as the idea generators for all the objects which are destroying our Earth, and which will stop working after a year to improve profits. We may not be the manufacturers, but we are the foundations of the industry and without a framework of ethics to protect ourselves from capitalism, how can we hope to know how we fit in society. How can we expect to improve the world?
It is hard to consider humans relationship with technology. Although we exist and stare around ourselves at the world, we find it hard to truly see time passing by. Only through situational experiences, such as noticing the changing seasons, or the number of inches a young relation has grown since we last saw them. Without the minutia of the everyday to orientate ourselves we are truly lost to understand time, civilization and our place within it. The bombardment of advancements we are faced with every day, in nearly every field, makes most peoples head spin—the miniaturization, digitalization, device-ication, and localization of objects, interactions and services has led many of us to look and act inwardly. This may be an immemorial human condition as society has advanced, or it may be intensified due to the speed of modern advancement and globalization.
Take the first example mentioned here, the doorway. Place an automatic opening door in this situation instead and everyone who now uses this space is robbed of an experience, the engagement with the door, the space, the moment it takes to open the door and look around at the world, the person who has the door held open for them as they walk through. All of these engagements are trampled and become a completely unimportant moment. A doorway is an entrance into a space designed for effect, or an exit out into the world on which we try to impose design, but which cannot be fully defined by our own desires.
The loss of these moments through the use of technology can truly effect society. Once we are given these advancements which improve aspects of our lives, we fully accept them without reflection on the simple truth of physics. Every action we employ upon the world and each other has an equal and opposite reaction. For all that we gain with the further impression of technology on our society, we lose the equal amount of something else. We would not argue to attempt to remove technology from the world, nor to slow its advancement, but rather ask that its use is considered on implementation so that the negative response to it can be taken into account, and acted upon. Technology is neither enemy nor ally. It should not be an end goal of our endeavors as designers, but a tool which can be used to nurture and rebalance other points above.
Obsolescence fuels strife (in society, the environment, in design, and relationships).
With the advancements in technology leading to changes in scale, quality and power of objects, not to mention the specialization, our number of owned objects increases ever further. As more features are discovered and needed by people to track their lives, our ecological footprint due to technology is ever widening and deepening. This obsolescence spreads out across our whole social ecology, from our individual relationships, to international and even the future of the species. The fierce competition which has overtaken our society to be the first to have, the only to have, the want to mark ones wealth through those symbols which we create. The more fierce the desire, the better job we have done. Someone should not fiercely desire an object to prove their worth to the world, they should fall in love with it and want it to cherish. The fierceness of this feeling is akin to anger and promotes negative emotions, jealousy, hate, fear. Should we be able to create in a positive manner we should hope to endow our objects with love.
Take the most obvious example—the diminishing raw materials needed to produce technological gadgets. Although millions of cellphones, tablets, and laptops are created yearly, the materials we have available to produce them are finite. As the amount of materials we have to produce them decreases or becoming impossible to procure, how will we adapt? Will we shift away from the current capitalist trend to design obsolescence, or will we simply increase the prices and to make up for the units which can no longer be produced? When we look at a product, does it truly seem smarter, more useful, more empathetic to encourage someone to throw a product away because it cannot be updated?
This writing is not advocating for a return to functionalist minimalism, where one design suits all, but rather is petitioning for advancement in design of experiential design. Perhaps looking at how we can create an experience for a personality through their interaction with a cause we produce, we can rethink how we approach the world around us. Consider Autoprogettazione (Mari) and the production of furniture which promotes the purchaser to construct it (beyond the lesser ikea ‘pop and twist’ construction), allowing an experiential connection to the finished object and its simple form. Now consider the maker movement—a movement which is underpinned by peoples want to learn, to build and to take ownership (whist usually committing to an open-source network of ownership).
If you managed to make it this far, I applaud you. This is where the original left off, with the topics Senses and Emotions, Relationships, Reflection and the Environment and the Infinite vs the Finite left to write—and maybe I'll sit down and do those soon for some fun.