To believe or not to believe….

The value of design synthesis lies in the space between concrete human needs and squishy human desires and dreams. It is the ability to reconcile these two very real modes of the human experience that makes the designer special. It is what makes them valuable to any process, because processes are a human creation in their own right. A human way of coping with reality.

I worked through these readings feeling that each author was grasping at a way of reckoning with their own human limitations. Defining those limitations is difficult for everybody, but especially for those who’s responsibility it is to understand other people and change their lives for the better based on that understanding. There are other careers that immediately address improving, or even saving, other people’s lives. We place a lot of trust in our counselors, doctors, and lawyers, for example. We hire them with the expectation that they understand the human condition, they are trained and have special skillsets that will help us. We imagine that prospective doctors, lawyers, or counselors have natural and accelerated skills working with and understanding people that we may not possess ourselves.

Based on our readings from the past two weeks, I believe that we should take a designer’s role in our lives as seriously as we might one of these other widely respected professions. This round of readings largely paints a picture of a designer as being a person who is meant to think holistically. We sit with that ambiguous space between logic and emotion. We can integrate the implicit knowledge and intuitional judgement that we possess with the expressions of others to attack problems from an elevated level.  Regardless of human’s ability to know one’s self, there are limitations of our languages to describe the essences of our needs and feelings. It is the designers job to extract those essences, synthesize many types of qualitative information, and tell those stories to others so we can all have a better understanding of our world.

Working through these readings, I found that most to all of these authors used the concept of context as a way of describing this holistic approach to problem solving, however they all addressed this from very different angels.

My X axis lays these authors out on a framework of “designing with” and “designing for”. This with and for changes meaning slightly across authors, fluctuating between ‘with end users’ and ‘with other designers’ and ‘with other people in the system’. Essentially this axis refers to how much the designer is considering other perspectives as a part of their process.

My other axis relates to this idea of human essence. Some authors ask us to dive deeply into the lives of others and to suspend our own life experience to better understand theirs. Others place less value on this idea, and ask us to consider it when thinking about the value of context, but to remain ultimately distanced from the emotional experience of the end user or other player. Finally there are those who place less value on the role of the designer as a whole, and therefore do not see our holistic approaches to work relevant at all.

This type of empathy, the toeing of the line between emotional immersion into a narrative & keeping a safe distance sounds daunting to us as budding designers. However we practice this much more often than we realize. Think of reading your favorite novel or going to the theater. We all have the ability to (and very often enjoy to) jump fully into a narrative that is not our own. But when we read a novel, we also have no problem maintaining maintaining a sense of self, and while still feeling the feelings of the characters for the time, we can still think critically about the plot without losing our grounding in reality. This experience can be framed as the suspension of disbelief. We can, for a time, give up our own critical faculties to believe something outside of our experience or logic.

For the purposes of this project, I selected the authors that resonated with me most within this framework to discuss in further detail.

My Y axis has one end labeled “suspending disbelief”, referring to how much importance the authors place on on the ability and willingness to suspend disbelief as a part of their design process. The other end of the axis is labeled “resistance to suspension of disbelief”, referring to how the authors consider the importance of remaining grounded in their methods during their process.


Who holds the power?

Presentation 1

Role of design in society. What is it? Who has the authority to say? How many correct answers are there?

After zooming in and out and in again on the five different texts with which we began our design theory adventure, and after much page flipping and self scrutiny, I eventually managed to piece together a few ideas that felt like they were worth shaping into a coherent takeaway that others could understand. For my presentation I decided to run with the one that felt grandiose and perhaps a bit dismal. But it is genuinely the way I found myself reading these texts, and what I found myself taking from them.

Idea: Design can be used as a powerful tool that will either empower everyone to become better thinkers and problem solvers or will be misused by a few as a weapon that disarms the masses unwittingly.

All of these readings were about the role of design in society as being a crucial tool in shaping our futures, but some see it in as an accessible tool for all, and others as a tool able to be utilized in an impactful way by only a few.

My scale of importance is based on the theorist’s insight into the ways that we, as the general populace audience, are empowered to utilize their insights for change, or left powerless by them.

I will break this down by position starting with the theorist who I find to be the least impactful to me in this framework.

Presentation 1 diagram

Vitta is intent on pointing out the metaphorical death of the designer in society. He sees the mass consumption of objects as cheapening the role of design, and sees a movement towards the cheapening of the power of objects themselves as they become more diminished to mere fetishized merchandise. This is all fine and well, but when I read Vitta I don’t see where I fall in this. The objects I posses tell a story about me, even if some are just shallow signifiers, and I am not offended by this role objects play in my life. Why should I care about the death of Vitta’s designer? And what am I supposed to do about it? Quite frankly, I don’t see this as being the most powerful way we can consider the role of design in our complex society.

Oh, Postman. I love your fatalist perspective on innovation. I think it is enchanting and dramatic and dystopian, and I have come to some of the same conclusions as I interact with my society filled with ‘fake news’ and exhalation of progress towards a “smarter” civilization of technology. Postman heeds a warning to a roomful of powerful and influential makers in society, urging them to think hard about all sides of the die when creating something new in this growing field of technology. He urges them to consider the consequences fully and to understand the weight of that responsibility. He describes us as being lost in a shuffled deck of cards, drowning in an ocean of information that keeps on growing in the name of problem-solving, and with no tools or guide to sort through it, no life raft to keep our heads above water. If this is true, and I often feel that it is, then that hopelessness that I get when I know I am drowning is not only justified, but isn’t in my power to fix or sort through. It is in the hands of others. My unexamined life is not worth living. I, an average good samaritan, have no way of arming myself against the chaos of “progress”.

Bernays discusses human beings in a very impersonal way. While he directly calls out that it now “the privilege of attempting to sway public opinion is everyone’s” he then goes on to describe all the ways that it is really only in the power of the elite, the special, the beautiful, and the remarkably ambitious to do so. He throws the general public a bone here and there rather disingenuously, claiming that if we learn to express ourselves, then we can do it too. But ultimately, he mostly discusses how susceptible people are to change their opinion and behavior if presented with the right set of well designed circumstances. As a reader, I do not get the sense that I am among those that how this power to influence, and I am rather scared of it and feel the need to look over my shoulder and wonder who put my opinions in my own head.

Papanek begins to steer the ship out of the storm for the common folk. While he does begin his paper with a very dramatic and heavy claim that industrial design potentially the (second) most harmful profession in existence, what he is really doing is setting the stage to position the role of design in society as being extremely powerful and important. He wants the reader to take it very seriously. He claims that with proper use it “can and must be a way in which young people can participate in changing society.” Unlike Vitta and Postman, his words feel more to me like a call to action for all human beings. Through vivid examples, he places all humans as having a tendency to conform in a society that encourages same-ness. He also describes the cultural, associational and emotional blocks we have. However, he explains that they are not inherited, but learned and, thus, able to be overcome. He even provides a few small tools we can try to change how we go about tackling problems (like the Eskimo dot test and the Arcturus IV experiment). With a diversity of experience and by intentionally taking on problems outside our familiar experiences, we can grow. These sound like attainable actions to me.

Finally, there is Dewey. Dewey lays out a theory of experiential continuum, meaning that all experience are impactful and that they will lead the experiencer to a subsequent direction that will lead him to another, compounding experience. He piece is also a call to action from everyone who participates in a system where they interact with others (so…everyone). He asks us all to be thoughtful and cognizant of our actions, because we “live from birth to death in a world of persons and things which in large measure is what it is because of what has been done and transmitted from previous human activities”.  This theory lifts every action we make to be a meaningful one, and that attitudes are the essence of the soul. I think that this piece is most useful because it frames design’s role in society in a way that allows you to find your place as a designer of experiences wherever you might stand. It humbles you to realize that if you are successful and are lucky enough to have general good fortune, this is a result of compounded experiences that others created for you. If you find yourself in a less than desirable position, that’s okay, but your actions still mean something in the continuum of the collective human experience. We can change our systems.

I do not argue that my interpretation of the value of these positions applies to everyone, as everyone has different perspectives and life experiences. Someone who was born into unfortunate circumstances which have only led to more unfortunate circumstances might say that Dewey’s theory sounds like a curse. But while perhaps this interpretation is specific to my personality type, life experiences and personal morals, regardless, all of these theorists give clues to your personal power to change society through design process.

Time to Reflect…

Going into this past week I anticipated feeling very anxious. Normally I might make myself sick with nerves, somewhat pointlessly, about almost every aspect of starting something very intense and new like the ac4d program. A few of these aspects might be… 1) meeting my classmates who I know I will spend so much time with in the next number of months , 2) meeting my Q1 teachers who will be the ones guiding my future journey into the design sphere and 3) trying new things at a very condensed pace. All of the potential anxiety being amplified by adjusting to a new city, new roommates, the Texas HEAT…..and being rather alone.

I found, however, that I was more confident than I expected once I was actually in the room, and re-contextualized my mindset to consider that I am not the only one who probably is feeling these things. And while my experiences might not be the same as others, hopefully they have prepared me for the journey ahead in my own way.

Through the mini lectures and activities, I found myself invigorated by all of the topics and processes we touched on that we will learn over the course of this year. I also found myself at peaceful terms with the idea that I am jumping with both feet into this process knowing that there will be times that my head will dip under the water for a few moments.

The experience of the bootcamp challenged me in ways that I did not expect, and that I don’t think I could have envisioned or articulated before trying it.

I felt the strain of trying to flow freely with the wide-open process of thinking divergently to harness creativity. It’s simultaneously a process of thinking really hard and also loosening up your mind up and trying to push out of your regular safe patterns. I could feel the rustiness of those muscle that haven’t been flexed in a while. It sometimes felt like trying to crush a can with your mind by staring at it a hundred different ways….and then slowing remembering that you can just pick up the can and crush it. Or maybe crush it with a shoe. Or crush it with a car. Or just throw it out the window entirely.

I learned that idea generation is both easy and difficult. It takes a lot twisting around and rethinking bad ideas in order to find that one good one you wouldn’t have been able to come up with right away.

I learned that listening both with your heart and your ears is essential to getting to the core of an issue, and that the designer’s personal instincts and intuition (rather than metrics and quantifiable justifications) play more into the process than I necessarily realized or considered. I think that I built on what my idea of  empathy-in-action means.

Finally, I learned that while design strategizing feels new and difficult, it is not as completely inaccessible as I could have imagined, and I can now more clearly see the future me that hopefully will come out of the program empowered to create new and awesome things.