Times are a Changing

Around Clock

Clocks and watches are one of my favorite items to see rethought. Clocks have always been such a timeless, readily identifiable object, a staple of wrists and walls all over. Their design and appearance largely goes unchanged, and even today the changes are often subtle details to make them distinct. Longer or shorter hands, strange colors, interesting designs on the face.

I have an imaginary watch collection in my dreams to compliment my modest and tiny real collection, and I have a concept for a wall clock design I hope to one day put together. But as clever as I hope I am, I am not this clever.

Around Clock

The Around Clock from Lexon, which I found on amerrymishapblog.com (via Swiss Miss ) is just that little bit more clever that makes it worth looking twice at. And it’s more than a simple graphic on the face, or interesting new hour hand.

The cylinder rotates while the red marker stays still, so don’t worry about needing to place it in the middle of the room or something. Anthony Dickens is the mind behind it, and you can read his thought process on the clock here.

Around Clock

Let me know what you think, and if you know of any interesting clocks or watches, feel free to post them!

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This is Thoughtful Design

Heirloom-Gift-300x300

Reusable Gift Wrap.

This is thoughtful design. Labels on it and a marker so it can make it to 10 Christmases instead of one. You build a relationship with this product as time passes. A relationship that’s unique to you and your closest.

As Bill Moggridge once said, “I like the concept of wearing in rather than wearing out.”

via Design Milk.

Design: The Final Test Question

Okay, here it is. This is the essay I wrote in advance of the essay I’m supposed to write answering the question;

“What is a designer? How might the concept of the Subject be engaged to help us think critically about this question? Finally, how might this critical vantage point on the experience of the designer help you re-think the original position paper you wrote for this course that explored your interest in becoming a designer? You should consult Hall + at least two of the case study materials listed below *** to answer this question. ”

I tried my best. I feel like somethings may not have been explored enough, but it’s already too long, so it’s the questions fault not mine. Prepare to be fall asleep halfway through.

What is a Designer?

Design is a complex and not so complex field. It is a broad term, and it encompasses many disciplines, work flows, mediums and thought processes, but they are all held together with a similar approach and framework.  Design, I believe, can be defined fairly straightforwardly, as can designer, and I will be attempting to define designer today. Designer under the lens of discourse changes, and it is that lens that gives it new depth and application, and I will attempt to explain this new level of importance of the designer in our contemporary world. To do that we must understand design, designer, discourse, power, knowledge and subjectivity. Ultimately everything comes down to influence and design as a field is integral to that.

Design if searched can be defined rather 2 dimensionally. Merriam-Webster has multiple definitions, some as vague as; “to  create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan”, and specific as;  “To draw the plans for”. Of course, Merriam-Webster is worried about all its different meanings in different contexts, I am not. I think design can be even vaguer and at the same time even more applicable than all of the definitions Merriam-Webster can muster. To me, design is deliberate action taken to solve a problem with the utmost thoughtfulness to all of its aspects. That means anything from the materials it uses, the processes used to make it, and all the way too who it’s being sold too, how much it will costs, and what will happen when they’re done with it. I say deliberate because deliberate implies understanding and thinking. Everything that was ever made was made to solve a problem. Knives were to cut and stab, hammers to slam and crush.  Design was in the first tool a Neanderthal ever fashioned and in the very last plastic chair in a school’s cafeteria. They both are the way they are for a reason, and that is design. Design goes as far as story-telling, and so it is present in movies. It is a part of paintings. Design is in every car, picture, status update and conversation we’ve ever had. Every time you talked your way out of being grounded or a friend from getting angry, you were picking very thoughtfully the exact words to keep them happy and you out of fire. Now, to define designer, we must go a wee bit further into design and look at it discursively. If I didn’t than all we would have is “A designer is one who applies design”. Which is true, but what that implies is far more complex than it would seem.

Stuart Hall talked about discourse in his work, and what he got to was that all meaning stemmed from discourse. We gave meaning to things, events, people, within discourse. Every conversation was a discourse and every institution was a discourse. More importantly, they all affected each other. This was through knowledge/power. Michel Foucault’s theory of knowledge/power is essentially that knowledge is created through power. That power decides what we know and what ideas are important to us. Foucault did not mean the government prescribed us our values, but that there was power coursing through all of discourse that would create these values. This power was simply ideas surfacing from coincidences; when people started to see that HIV was transferred through needles and homosexuals were appearing with more and more cases of HIV, homosexuality became a scourge. This is knowledge, or how knowledge is created according to Foucault. It may surprise some to find out that homosexuality was hugely ignored and sometimes encouraged in ancient times. What this says is not that homosexuality is actually good, or that is was found to actually be bad, because as we know today homosexuality is becoming more and accepted in mainstream culture, but that it never had a particular polarity; it depended entirely on the circumstances surrounding it. This was discourse, power and knowledge all at once. There is no truth to either homosexuality being a good or bad thing, simply a ‘regime of truth’ that decides at a given time. This regime was put in place by all of the discourses coming to an agreement, stemming from the knowledge that the discourse of health came across; HIV is dangerous and transmitted through needles.

Why this is important to know in regards to design and designer is because we have to understand where design sits on this spectrum of discourse, knowledge and power to even get to the question of subjectivity. If power courses through all of us, and design is inherit in everything we consciously generate, be they objects or ideas, then design is power. That is, design is the language of our expression of our values at any given time. The values we hold dear, that we may or may not know are our values, are being coded into every object that was ever deliberately made. Every chair and cellphone is hardcoded with the knowledge/power of right now that we are all subject too. This is where we finally get to speak of designers.

A designer is one who applies design. This presents a paradigm; the designer is both the coder of power and the person being coded. In our modern pseudo-panopticon, we are all policing each other and imposing power on one another, and so we are all imposed. As much as we may seem the guard at watch, we are also the prisoner under surveillance, and so none of us escapes power’s grasp. This is all even truer when we remember that although “designer” is a title in a club of trendy 20-somethings called “design”, a designer is also actually every single thinking, understanding being. We are all every one of us designers. The only difference between us and great designers is that they are self-concious; they understand that it is their job to not only code our values into their work, but identify those values. So while they are imposed upon by the foggy smoke of power and this force is deciding what is important in their work, they are also speaking for the fleshy mound that is people and the new emerging power that is generating through discourse. The designer is both subject of power and subject of people. The missing link between abstract forces and very real humans.

What this changes is everything; this realization broadens the entire field. Before knowing this, a designer was concerned with the most attractive organization of an object, but this idea of a ‘most attractive organization’ changed every year if not more often, and the designer couldn’t explain what made it so. Every designer was simply regurgitating what everyone already thought was the most attractive organization. A great designer, someone of importance saw deeper into our values and dredged out of us the future. It wasn’t an original thought, it was a subconscious thought, and until it is fed back to us through power, by the designer coding it into their work, we did not know we liked it. We didn’t have a way to describe it. But when we saw it we all understood it, and it was good. If we look at Charles’ Eames Solar Do-nothing Device, we see what I’m talking about. A device running on solar power who’s sole purpose is to entertain. It takes design to a field of more than function, and the simply conception of it opened so many possibilities. Paola Antonelli described designers as culture generators – and she was more right than she would ever know. Designers hold the responsibility of putting our values into new work, but also must realize that they are at the same time subject to this power. Not every idea is a good idea. Not everything should be taken for granted. People are silently crying out for something new all the time, and a great designer finds this and bears it to the world.

In my position paper I wrote at the start of the year, I described design as manipulation. This was close but really only half true, because we have to acknowledge that every manipulator is simultaneously being manipulated. So how much change can you really inspire in people if you’re just a subject of the same influence that these people are? That is the key to a great designer. Ultimately design is delusion – we think we are original but in reality our subconscious is feeding itself back to us. A great designer looks deeper into what culturally is changing; what is emerging through discourse, and makes the most thoughtful action towards progress. A designer will never be removed from the feedback loop, but if the designer can identify it, he can have a huge part in making it better for right now. After all, design only lasts as long as there is a problem that needs solving.

The Body rather than the Mind

Japanese Design is about interaction in a very physical sense. You can always spot Japanese design. Always. For someone not from that part of the world it feels weird, almost perverted (I’m being honest here), but design from Japan is body and human focused.

Their work is doing it’s best to engage you physically and have you play and interact with your device. One of my favorite designers right now, Naoto Fukasawa, calls himself an “interactivity designer”. I’d say everyone is an interactivity design, or rather, everything you design will be subject to interaction. Be it a graphic design on a shirt, or a new type of rubber grip for kitchen tools, you are designing an interaction.

Japanese designer’s take this very literally. Their designs engage us physically, having us look at things, talk to things, think about things, feel things, move them, lift them, spin them, and do just about anything with them. Their philosophy is too engage the body and give objects human attributes. Look at a Microsoft  patent and a Sony patent. They’re both making game consoles. Microsoft patents an IR camera that can see our movements. Sure, that’s engaging the body. It’s application, if you’ve used it, is ultimately recreate a touch screen without having you walk up to your 50 inch LCD.

 

Sony patents a camera that watches your face to tell what emotion you have on. It can deliver those emotions you like or dislike to you more or less often, and of course keep track of how people respond to these things so they see how effective what they’re making is.

It’s different. It’s weird, and it’s hard to describe, but the difference exists, and I think a lot of future design is going to lean more to this weird body-human philosophy. Everyday, design is becoming more about new physical solutions to old problems. Better shapes, more thoughtful build and materials. Now the way we actually use them will change. Tickle something to get it to work faster. Blow on it to wake it up. This human approach to design is unique, and it makes Japan to me an undiscovered land. The thought process is so different. You can see a lot of this in Nintendo devices. Their Vitality Sensor, their DS, and of course the Wii.

Fukasawa designed the Muji Wall Mounted CD Player. This is an extremely subtle version of this human involvement, but it’s there. Before it would have been the buttons and a display sitting on your desk. But Fukasawa takes the analog interaction from turning on a lightbulb (often a metaphor for inspiration or great ideas…) and adapts it to music. So it’s perfect for music lovers like myself, because music is a source of inspiration and feeling for us.

This interaction changes the entire value of the music. It modifies our perspective. Where it sits, where it comes from, and what purpose it has to us when we use it. It’s elevated to a new importance.

The Human/analog interactivity of objects can be explored further and it can make our interactions that much better. Let me know what you think.

Design as a Commodity

When’s the last time a Child’s coat hanger costed 200 british pounds? Design is important, but more importantly, I think it should make things cost less rather than more. And if it costs more, it better be because the design enabled it be worth that much more.

I’ve heard the name “Eames” enough times this semester, and I haven’t looked into the couple yet, but it sucks that the first thing I saw of theirs besides a chair was a coat hanger for kids. It looks great. It doesn’t look like it cost £200. It’s 49.95, maybe.

Not to fault the well loved lovers, but maybe their estate. Design today is considered a commodity; it’s why Apple can charge 50% more and still get their components from Foxconn. I think that’s wrong. Design should be thoughtful in EVERY regard. Or as much as possible before it’s impacting the ultimate usefulness of the solution ens creatum. It should at least be thoughtful in it’s price, and honest, because in my opinion, making design a quality to be attached to items to enhance it’s shelf value is the antithesis of design. That’s excessive and unnecessary use of resources. Be fair, be honest. Be thoughtful.

Designers are the link between abstract thoughts and tangible things, and we have a responsibility to not make our world one of excessiveness. That’s what’s killing it.

http://designmuseumshop.com/whats-new/hang-it-all

I realize at this point, this hanger is being sold for novelty rather than function, and so it’s price is for a collector – but there are many new items that get a premium because it was ‘designed’ (or the label said so). Step into any quirky shop that sells stationery and tell me any pen or pen accessory in there is worth what the packaging says. Do a Google search of the cost of the components inside an iPhone. The Jambox, is not worth $199. That’s just a fact.

Thought I had to say something. Tell me what you think.