Design everday

A series of blog posts created in the "design methodologies" module at ZHdK, teached by Dr. Joëlle Bitton.

In this blogpost I will write about the learnings from my colleagues presentations and the findings from the readings from this week.

Aathmigan Jegatheeswaran on Sci-Fi and Design

One topic of today’s lesson was the relation of design and Science-Fiction. We discussed the hypothesis of Sci-Fi as a medium used for entertainment purposes and designing as an act focusing on functionality. To me this statement seemed to be to generalising, trying to push those fields into categories it should definitely be blasting.

For me Science-Fiction is a great tool for creativity expression without boundaries, limitations and judgement but also for playing through thought-experiments and visualising philosophical questions to make them experienceable. Regarding creativity techniques in the designing process, it’s of high interest to us designers I think. Hidden behind the concept of serving for entertainment purposes only, there’s a sweet spot for designers to get feedback from people without being judged for one’s ideas. It’s remarkable, that many of todays interaction designs were inspired by Sci-Fi. While many years ago something was called science fiction, it’s nowadays reality. What this should tell us designers I think, is that the creative process should never ever be weighed down by the approach of “being realistic”.
Or as Bill Verplank said:

“If an idea is criticised before being expressed it dies prematurely”.

Besides the creative aspect, Sci-Fi also has a great historical and social impact as people will identify themselves with those stories and build on top of them. They sort of define who we are as a society and what kind of society we want to build. As Joëlle Bitton mentioned, there seems to be a constant feedback loop between the movies and the engineering; making Sci-Fi more than just an entertainment genre.

Andreas Waldburger on Defamiliarization

The second topic we discussed further was about defamiliarization. Defamiliarization is about compelling ourselves to examine our automated perception. In everyday situations, we tend to take things for granted, not scrutinising their right of being there or the way we use and see them. As an example, we discussed the meaning of home and everyday. One can think of those terms as trivial, but when discussed in class the diverse variations of how we define those terms for ourselves have been revealed. Home was seen as physical but also a mental construct as well. It was described as a surrounding you’re familiar with, a place where you feel comfortable/safe or even people making you feel loved. I think for me it’s kind of a mixture of all of this. It’s an environment where I feel safe and loved. So I like the idea of home as a mental as well as a physical construct. It’s somehow attached to a place but definitely dependent on social structures as well.

For us, certain terms seem to be so trivial and ordinary, we don’t even think about what’s defining them. Therefore we tried to defamiliarise an apple in a small group. We thought about what’s making an apple an apple. How do we categorise an object as an apple and how would we explain it to an alien from Mars? So we started describing it: It’s a source of energy and vitamins - a representative of the essentials of human life to further exist - which grows in humans environment. It seems to have sort of a natural packaging, as it is wet inside and dry on the outside. The appearance of it is also relative to its environment and time. It grows and it decays. etc…

Defamiliarising can really give new perspectives on things and be pretty useful in the creative phase of the design process. I also think of it as a very enriching method to get conscious of ones perception and raise awareness of ones surrounding.

Learnings from this weeks readings

What really stuck to my head was the term of fluidity in relation to design. Designing fluid systems means to design in a way so you leave possibilities for the user to find his own way of using it. It’s about making things adaptable, flexible and responsive so every user is able to identify an object the way he thinks is right. As mentioned in “The Zimbabwe Bush Pump” it’s also important in concerns of not creating a small tech-artifact, that will remain as alien to the environment. It’s important that it will blend in the surrounding and not building any barriers I think.
But this doesn’t mean a design has to be fluid in every part of it. That’s the point where the user will be overwhelmed with the possibilities given. So it’s quite important to find a good balance by getting user feedback, working scenario based and to learn by doing.
Regarding this I’d like to quote a phrase from the Zimbabwe Bush Pump Article: “The designer knows when he has reached perfection, not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

What I also really liked was the idea of information not only stored in a humans brain and body, but also in our environment as stated by Donald A. Norman in The design of everyday things. Behaviour therefore is determined by the combination of internal and external information. External constraints reduce internal memory load and exert powerful control over activities. This reminded me of the theory of affordances. As designers, I think we want to minimise the internal information necessary to use a design system to the smallest unit possible, to be able to fully control the scope for action by the external information. That’s what a good affordance should be doing. If you as user are able to use a design system intuitively, it means that the external constraints are optimally organised.
So, for objects this is great I think. But having information stored externally also means, that your knowledge is always dependent on your environment. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing, but it’s something one wants to be aware of.

Readings

Bell, Genevieve, Blythe, M. & Sengers, P. 2005. “Making by Making Strange: Defamiliarization and the Design of Domestic Technologies”. In ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. 12. 149-173.

Carroll, J. M. (2000). “What is Design?” In Making Use: Scenario­Based Design of Human­Computer Interactions. The MIT Press.

Kirk, David S., Chatting, D. J., Yurman P. & Bichard, J. 2016. “Ritual Machines I & II: Making Technology at Home”. In Proceedings of CHI ‘16.

Marianne de Laet and Annemarie Mol. 2000. The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology, In Social Studies of Science. 30/2. 225–63

Donald Norman. 1988. The Design of Everyday Things. 54-80.

Daniela Rosner and Jonathan Bean. “Learning from IKEA Hacking: “Iʼm Not One to Decoupage a Tabletop and Call It a Day.” Proceedings of  CHI’ 09.

Shedroff, N. 2012. Make it So. Rosenfeld Media.

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