5. aesthetics. form and function.


For Wednesday 21 February, read Ulrich chapter 7, Aesthetics.
What is the role of aesthetics in design? Where does it come into play? How does it relate to terms like elegance, or even sprezzatura?

Two recent essays by Frank Chimero might relate to this —
Every thing easy is hard again
The Good Room

and this, from computer scientist and writer David Gelernter * in Machine Beauty (1998) —

Beauty is important in engineering terms because software is so complicated. Complexity makes programs hard to build and potentially hard to use; beauty is the ultimate defense against complexity.

form and function

And be thinking about a room, in which wallpaper might play a role. What might that role be, for that particular room? What goes on in that room? Who uses it, and who does not? What is the energy level of the room?


For Wednesday, read Ulrich chapter 4, Exploration.
Farhard Manjoo, Welcome to the Post-Text Future
The New York Times. February 9, 2018

We reviewed our emblems this morning; for Wednesday, revise if appropriate, and write a paragraph (or so) on each of your emblems, discussing not so much what it means, as some of the potential meanings its particular algebra makes possible.

week 3a

We meet tomorrow (Wednesday 7 February) in the Design Seminar room, H-309.
We will be joined there at 9:30 am by David Buckley Borden, with whom we will discuss his work as an interdisciplinary artist and designer
Using an accessible combination of art and design, David promotes a shared environmental awareness and heightened cultural value of ecology. David’s place-based projects highlight both pressing environmental issues and everyday phenomena. Informed by research and community outreach, David’s work manifests in a variety of forms, ranging from site-specific landscape installations in the woods to data-driven cartography in the gallery.
from his website.

David Buckley Borden and Aaron M. Ellison (Senior Ecologist, Harvard Forest), will speak in H-201 at 11:30 am today, on their work at Harvard Forest — Hemlock Forest, Landscape Ecology, Art and Design.

Fast Forward Futures, installation at Harvard Forest, 4x4x26 feet, wood, acrylic paint, and assorted hardware, 2017. Collaborators: David Buckley Borden, Jack Byers, Dr. Aaron Ellison, Salvador Jiménez-Flores, and Salua Rivero.
“Fast Forward Futures,” installation at Harvard Forest, 4 x 8 x 26 feet, wood, acrylic paint, and assorted hardware, 2017. Collaborators: David Buckley Borden, Jack Byers, Dr. Aaron Ellison, Salvador Jiménez-Flores, and Salua Rivero.
source : Hemlock Hospice

Before David arrives, we will review our thoughts on Ulrich’s chapter 3 — Design Problem Definition — and, if time permits, give a collective thought to what we learned about emblems and emblematics on Monday.

To reiterate, we will create three emblems based on materials found in a single copy of The New York Times Magazine. These three emblems, each using the three-part (A-B-C) structure of motto, (allegorical) image and explication and/or other text providing closure. The basic algebra is that A + B + C = not D, but some quantity greater than the sum of those parts.

week three

Read, and be prepared to discuss, Ulrich’s chapter 2 — “Problem Solving and Design.”
Within the taxonomy of (six kinds of) problems, there are design problems, plus : selection problems, system improvement problems, tuning problems, crises, and wicked problems.
Ulrich has a bias in favor of “structured” and “deliberate” processes. Designers (and artists) may have a bias in favor of action, but we can think of “design problem definition” and “exploration” as somewhat unruly passages in a deliberate process.
The relationship of design with innovation (p21) is worth dwelling on (particularly “technology push”).
Think of “elegance” (p22) in terms of sprezzatura

John expects to talk briefly about emblematics as it relates to graphic design, with focus on combination of elements to make or investigate a point or topic. We talked briefly last Wednesday about Castiglione’s conception of sprezzatura — “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it” — and how it might relate to the designed object, and specifically to the vertu contained by that object.

We will also look more closely at recent work by David Buckley Borden, who will join us for part of our meeting on Wednesday 7 February.
Our questions for David may relate to his method as a designer/public artist, in terms of interventions in various situations of critical interest. His educational background is business school (entrepreneurship) and a graduate degree in landscape architecture.

further ahead,
we will be reading Ulrich’s chapter 3 — “Design Problem Definition” — and relating his ways of thinking about design, to the relationship between User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) design, as introduced by Harshita Aora,
What’s the difference between UX and UI design?
(Aora is a “16 year old programmer and entrepreneur.”)

aside (and optional) —
Read Jason Farago’s review of First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone, an exhibit at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas —
Stone Age Tools, or Art? Or Both? : A Dallas show of Paleolithic artifacts proposes a new genealogy of aesthetic history.” in The New York Times (February 2, 2018) : C17
The essay explores the question of whether these objects are tools or “art”, and what is entailed in our thinking of them as either or both.

further (week two)

designed objects
This last week, we discussed — interrogated — our designed objects, and sought to understand them in a larger context, in relationship to forces and factors that give them meaning. We are interested in how these designed objects come to be in our classroom; what meaning is packed into them, which means, what can they tell us about the world beyond themselves.

Cassidy : purple cow creamers (made in Japan), and
a The Dream Is Alive pennant promoting NASA and the space shuttle, circa 1985
Our discussion has so far centered on what replaces pennants, in terms of physical things that embody/reflect/promote ambitions for young people

Karen : a Gala apple
“a clonally propagated apple cultivar with a mild and sweet flavor,” developed in New Zealand in the 1930s, and for which a US Plant patent was obtained in 1974, the first of several patents for different “sports” (or mutations)
“As American as apple pie,” goes the saying. Discussed Johnny Appleseed and hard cider; the reported “popularity” (ranks no. 2) of the Gala apple; the number of kinds of apples (7,500 known cultivars, according to wikipedia) and the selection of apple types available in the typical supermarket, and characteristics (storability, etc.) that were designed into this particular cultivar, etc.

Amy : Poo-Pourri (“before-you-go toilet spray”)
where we discussed Pou-Pourri in terms of humor in branding, among other things.

Kara Guttadauro : Hot Sauce from Hell
So far, we’ve discussed hot sauce and the use of cayenne and other peppers generally, and historically, and also consumption (including competitive);
have not yet examined a specific bottle of Habanero Hot Sauce from Hell

Vincent : a Warmies® Cozy Plush Junior Brown Hooty
manufactured by Intelex

Andrew : Zippo (cigarette) lighter
discussed its association with military (War War 2, Vietnam War), its magical properties (fire) and even gender aspects (vis-a-vis Bic lighters, for example)
interested in its weight, size, design; relationship to the iPhone (for which there are cigarette lighter attachments!); also, how its longevity (through wars, etc.) adds to its rich associative background
US Patent US2032695 (1936)

for next Monday, review once more the first chapter in Ulrich (“Introduction to Design”), and read

chapter 2 “The scaffolding or rhetoric” in Richard Toye, Rhetoric : A very short introduction (2013), especially pp 32-45 (the three branches of rhetoric; the five canons; and, above all, the three appeals (ethos/character, pathos/emotion, logos/logic)

and Norman Potter, “Is a Designer an Artist?” (1969), from Design and Art (2007) : 29-33

further ahead
We will be joined in class on February 7 by David Buckley Borden, artist/designer, who will be giving a visiting artist talk at 11:30 that day.
I would like you to look at his Hemlock Hospice project, described at his website, and consider questions we might discuss with him. I am particularly interested in his method as a designer, who sees a “gap” (an Ulrich term!), and then finds ways of situating himself in a place (often with interdisciplinary collaborators) in order to impact awareness, etc.


Our first day, the instructor will discuss the overall shape of the class, and introduce the first readings —

  1. Vilém Flusser’s essay “On the word design,” in his The Shape of Things : A Philosophy of Design (1999)
  2. the OED definitions of the word “design” (noun)
  3. the first (introductory) chapter of Karl T. Ulrich’s Design : Creation of Artifacts in Society (2011).
  4. Jules David Prown, “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method,” Winterthur Portfolio 17:1 (Spring 1982): 1-19 (may be skimmed)

Our first exercise will be to select a designed object, research it — its intended purpose, its function (what it does), dimensions, material qualities, and perhaps precursors, patents, designer, uses, misuses, where found, its current condition (and what that might suggest about its use, value), etc., etc. — and then develop a way to present this information. In recent years, we have used The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design as our model; this time, the design will be up to you. We will look at some examples (Jenny Odell her Bureau of Suspended Objects, Phaidon Archive), but these are not intended to limit you.

We are interested in the stories the object tells or can be learned about it, but also how it comes to be in the world and in our personal lives — those connections (probably impressionistic, subjective) that extend beyond the object itself.

Bring in the item, and what you’ve learned about it and its being situated in the world, on Monday 22 January.
Also, write — and bring in (or post to the course blog) — a one-page response to at least one of the readings.

some examples from previous semesters and, regarding postcards —
Louise J. Boscacci. The Trace of An Affective Object Encounter: a picture postcard, its provocations, and processual becomings. PhD thesis, University of Wollongong (2016)
dissertation here
see also

this ancient (2013) assignment by Clive Dilnot is highly relevant to our project —
writing about things, well