I wanted to expand a bit on the question I asked in class on Thursday, as a way of developing this potential linkage a bit more strongly in my mind. The original question was something along the lines of:

Is the construction or reading of design precedent a form of aesthetic criticism?

By design precedent, I mean any artifact of the design process that might be shared with a Community of Practice (CoP) that surrounds production of similar artifacts. So this might include a book of logos for a logo or graphic designer, or an architectural plan book or project documentation for an architect. The point of reading such materials, from a designer’s perspective, is to serve as knowledge of other “ultimate particular” objects, which ultimately creates a collection of design knowledge (seen as different from scientific knowledge). This design knowledge links the designer to other work, which may serve as negative or positive examples which could be helpful to integrate into their own design process (issues of fixation included, as noted in Cross, 2001). You can see an extreme example of a design brief for the Pepsi “smile” logo here, although most forms of design precedent are not quite this involved.

So getting back to the thrust of this linkage, that the creation of design precedent, including commentary or selection of artifacts is, in itself, an act of criticism. While much of this created precedent is clearly situated in the authorial perspective (as in Riefenstahl’s commentary on the creation of Triumph of the Will), I think there is helpful overlap into other categories of criticism, including social context, predictions of reader/user behavior, and aspects of the artifact itself. So, in itself, I would propose, a detailed chronicle of design precedent touches on all four primary categories of criticism, either predictively or as documentary.

The other perspective on this precedent, however, is the reader’s perspective when actually digesting or “using” this design precedent. In this case, the authorial perspective is still foregrounded, but the addition of the reader’s design perspective and expertise, along with the lens of the current project they may be working on, adds a unique critical perspective to the original precedent and even the original artifact. This is where I think the greatest value might be seen, and within the lens of Cross and others, the reading of this precedent may, in fact, provoke many aspects of design cognition as precedent is read and applied to the foregrounded design problem.