reading and thinking about design in cultural context

I tend to tweet my thoughts as I do my reading for these classes. This ends up cluttering up my twitter feed with random comments. I don’t have time to write full blog entries while I’m reading (and I shouldn’t). As I read and tweet, I’m also taking notes and making comments on readings in a word processing document.
About every five minutes:
I will try to note some of my comments here as I go, instead of cluttering up my twitter feed and annoying people.
I haven’t been to the library once this semester. But I’ve done all the readings and written three assignments. Uni has changed in 17 years.
Challenging the pseudoscience of these design articles is getting tiresome.
I tired of your bullshit, design theory.
your fully justified article is blowing up my eyeballs, design article. Also, your content is desperate flummery.
Gotta remind myself: guiding motivation behind most design isn’t equity or social justice but financial gain. This is important difference.
…………………………………….
Oh man, my brains are blowing up. This article is just so… it’s like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. It drives me crazy.
I give up.
I’ll probably return to this article later, once I’ve been to the lecture. I’ll definitely return to it if I need it for an assignment. This way I have an idea of what it’s about, and can come back later. There’s no discussion of readings in the tutorial or lecture, so I don’t need to be ‘on’. I’m also finding that the readings have no reference to the material covered in lectures.
I’ve just come across an article about the India Report. This caught my eye because the report was written by the Eames – mega famous American designers – who went to India to have a look at Indian design. I’m not sure if they were invited specifically, but I do think it was a response to the Indian government asking for suggestions about improving design and industry in India. The Eames’ report was sponsored by the Ford Foundation.
The Eames recommended a National Institute of Design be established, and it was. This is just fascinating stuff. I’d be really interested to see how the report (and institute) accommodate:
– regional differences in design
– cultural differences in design within the massive and culturally and ethnically diverse Indian continent
– gender/class/etc in (then) existing design practices, particularly as they relate to rural communities and gendered design and manufacturing processes.
I’d also be be fascinated to see how and if and even whether the Institute and Report worked in a context of cultural imperialism and India-as-British-Colony. I’d be curious about value systems and evaluation of design in this context, as this is something we do in my design subject – we ‘evaluate’ designs. I’m immediately wary of the term ‘evaluate’ – to engage with an item and to assess it according to a set of design values. I smell cultural specificity, but then, the part of me that’s learning about design pragmatics, understands that you do actually have to assess designs. This is especially important if you’re working to create accessible designs, or designs which improve accessibility, particularly for less powerful or marginalised groups and individuals.
I keep stumbling over the relationship between postmodernism and…. that other thing. I think of it in terms of feminism – women are all very different, with different needs and interests, but we also share common needs and interests, and so can work as groups. I always think of these groupings as contextually and temporally dependent, and also as mobile (agile?), changing all the time.
So usability design should:
– recognise the limitations of one designer designing for a group from whom he or she differs. In other words, remember who you are, how your ideas about the world are specific to you and your experiences, and design self-reflexively
– develop useful design personas for developing objects.
I’m not entirely sure about this point as design personas are just new to me. Basically, you develop an imaginary user with very convincing attributes – age, class, etc. The best personas are the product of extensive empirical research and a designer’s long experience. I suspect, though, that it might simply be more useful to work with the intended users directly with a sort of design-centred action research approach. This is complicated, though, by the fact that designers are actually working for clients (retailers, government bodies, etc) who are requesting a design to serve a particular user or customer. So you have to accommodate not only the users’ needs and interests, but also those of the client who’s paying you. Economic factors shape commercial (and government) work, policy issues shape government work, individual notions of the product from your liason affect the design….. and so on.
I’ve just been reading about scientific approaches to design. Or using principles of scientific research (cognitive psychology in particular) in the design process. While I’m interested in one way, I’m also very sceptical in another. Though it seems like a nice approach to user centredness and usability, I think that the power and ideas remain with the designer and client, and so the process still doesn’t actually produce user-centred designs. We are still filtering ideas through the brain of a designer.
This is, of course, quite practical in one sense. A designer understands how manufacturing processes work. They understand how design processes – actually getting things done work. But they do not – despite their best imagining and empirical research – actually know what it is to balance a child on one hip while you use a washing machine. Not once, but hundreds and hundreds of times. And then, of course, we have to talk about gender and class and the luxuries (and perceptions of) time and so on.
I think of this sometimes in terms of colour blindness or perceptions of colour. We each ‘know’ what blue is. And while we can use various tools to ‘show’ us how other people perceive blue, physically, we cannot ever ignore or leave behind our ‘knowledge’ of blue from our own, everyday lived experience. So the way we use blue, though it might in some sense respond to those alternative uses or perceptions of ‘blue’, will, ultimately, be shaped and informed and structured by our understanding of blue and blueness.
….I’m wondering if design-by-colaboration is useful here? Or how to go about involving users in the design process? Or whether design needs to get out of offices and out into other people’s everyday spaces?
As I read and write about this stuff, I keep thinking about how we do audience research in media and cultural studies. How the notion of positivism – that we can somehow objectively ‘collect’ data – is anathema to solid audience studies research. Design research, though, seems absolutely founded on this notion of ‘collecting’ data. When I am absolutely sure that data isn’t found but made.
Well, we’ll see how we go. I’m a bit sorry I only have two semesters of learn during this course. I’d like to learn a whole lot more. But there’s nothing to stop me getting my independent learn on later, after I’m finished. I’m also very interested in seeing how my experiences working in a job shape the way I think about this stuff. And the new ideas I’ll come up with. It’s all very exciting.

“Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”

I’ve finally managed to take some dodgy photos of the UTS tower building on my phone. They’re not very good, I’m afraid. I’ll need to take some more. There are more pics on my flickr page, and I’ll try to get some more tonight.
This is a little film I made by accident. I’m a bit snuffly and sighy – I’m pretty snotty atm, so the sound effects are a bit gross.
The Tower building at UTS is a really good example of brutalism. Brutalism apparently refers to the use of raw concrete and materials, but the more usual connotations do seem to apply.
The building is tall and a bit of a bunker. There are fabulous views from all windows, but most of the windows in my lecture rooms are too tall for me to see out of. And too narrow for proper panoramas.
I didn’t realise I was making a movie – I thought I was just taking photos. But at least you get to see the BRIGHT YELLOW hand rails, the curved corners and rounded door corners. This is all in the stair well.
The ceilings seem a little too low and the corridors a little too narrow in this building. I think it’s because it was built in the 60s or 70s (I’m not sure when), and they used slightly smaller proportions for smaller people… well, that’s what happened in our flat. Lower sinks and so on. But I think that this might also be a deliberate design feature in the tower building. It makes the building feel as though you’re in a space ship. The bright green doors contrast strangely with the raw concrete and ‘natural’ colours. It’s all very strange. I am particularly fond of the rounded corners on the doors.
That is one big sigh.