Monday, November 26, 2012

Adding to the Axioms of Design

Reading Nam Suh's book the Principles of Design makes me think of the number of times I have argued the finer points of design education. Although the text is written as a guide to quantifying design through axiomatic precision it leaves one wondering about the human factors not fully accounted. Axiom 1 is the Independence axiom which considers the function of a design and its relationship to the parameters in which design functions must operate. Function has been a common quality for design that distinguishes it from other art forms. Many an artist will argue that fine arts has a function to which I would agree, however, its function is not paramount in its existence. If the function is missed, misunderstood, or represents a function greater than the localized purpose of seeing the work we can say it is outside of work and more a result than a purpose. Function as a corollary can not be a design. Axiom 2 is Information and admittedly a more difficult quantifiable term. Suh uses probability and the notion of time as it relates to the importance of reducing information required for the design to function. As you can see, the connection to function and through axiom 1 a relationship to design parameters, the  rounds out the axiomatic framework nicely. Coupled functions are problematic because of the unpredictable nature of resultant behavior when one function (or its related design parameter) is changed. Decoupled and uncoupled functions have both a more predictable behavior pattern and the added benefit of modularity. What is valuable about Suh's work is the ground work he lays for design to be seen as a scientific theoretically based field rather than the mystical art form. What is needed is the relationship to human factors that makes it design and not engineering.

What should be included in the axioms of design principles is one of aesthetic value (AV) which can be quantified with the objective of describing good design. The importance of aesthetic value gets to the human response to a design that arouses visual senses and adds to the experience of using well designed objects. Two effects of design on human interaction include interest (I) which is the level of arousal at initial stages of interaction and experience (E) which is the sum of interaction and the positive or negative quality over time (T). Expressed as follows.

                                         AV= I(E)
These values are relative to the priori of the non-interactive T0 state to the state of T1.... Tn. Where interest is based on arousal levels of the same intervals. Interaction time is proportional to the value of overall experience where if interaction time is larger experience is more positive, and the more negative an experience the time approaches 0 but never equal to zero which would mean no time was spent interacting with the object. To say human experience is quantifiable is perhaps folly and at least controversial but if we are to have a clear axiomatic definition of design we can not eliminate the dimensions that exist within good design. To exclude the aesthetic value would be to neglect the human properties that make good design more value driven than the important features of function and information. Current data on human experience may show that the important nature of experience is, in its measurable self and all that is needed to describe its general value to design. Over the next months I will attempt to prove the axiom of aesthetic value and start the discussion of its inclusion in the principles of design. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Futurism Starting Today

For those who know me, have heard me say that a new Futurism is soon upon us and there is an optimism in the air after the Obama win last night. If we follow the history of design and signals of economic and political waves that have been flowing over us for the last few years it is clear that a look forward is where our vision is turning.

This is not the Futurism of the early 1900's that whole heartedly embraced mechanical technologies as a way to direct culture away from traditional forms and ideology. The disdain written in vitriolic manifestos diminished the neoclassicists in all areas of culture. Embodied in the design forms was a celebration of modern living. What opened the minds of Italian architects like Antonio Saint'Elia to the possible opportunities material and engineering discoveries offered was a new found freedom by rejecting the past. The manifestation of Futurist thinking came about in what was then becoming a radical artistic movement that spread to areas of design. Within the academe, old architectural training emulated classical masters, where futurists forbade what they saw as a compulsion to decorate (cover with pretty things - F.T. Marinetti). Futurists' exposed a buildings "mechanical simplicity" or emphasized the buildings purpose through form. We now see the influence of Futurism in Modernist painting and sculpture but architecture and design spun off favoring the functional International Style. The 'box' of efficiency and economic modesty seemed to justify the designers intent more clearly for makers than that of contemporary cubist or later modernist art which seemed self indulgent.

Futurism of 2013+ will no doubt reflect the new technology rather than mechanical marvel. In some ways we have not seen much of 'technical' building but for a few exceptions like Gehry, Magma or iGuzzini. Materials and form move beyond the current norms of construction but also embrace a human relationship. Curvilinear walls and softer shapes seem to address the shape of human beings rather than drive us into oversized cubicles. Work is changing from its central role for younger people. Being a brand can not just mean 'profession' it means work, play, family, persona... life - both virtual and real. New Futurism will be techno-everything that will not have the edge of the previous version because all life can not be an ode to only work. Because technology has permeated all aspects of the modern world the new Futurism will seem to be more well rounded by human activity like play, and family. Oddly enough it is these things that have been fading in a technology based existence.

What will also make this new Futurism seem more palatable, but should be no less aggressive in its influence over culture is the importance of sustainability. Technology as we know it is only part of the answer but  guided by an ethical responsibility to the environment the new Futurism will be distinguished from the technological paradigm we live in by incorporating a 'green' perspective. Seeing the issues of sustainability as part of design thinking made possible through technological means will bring about innovation unlike the previous decade. New innovation will come about through the story we construct around a 'healthy planet' but backed by large data to suggest its importance and validity.