The Koskinen reading brought back some remnants of contemporary art crit that hang out in the back of my brain. Back then (in 2005-6) I was focused entirely on the art critical side of the fence, and had little to no interest in research. The tables have turned, though, and now I am occupied entirely by research, with only fringes of practice remaining. So, this reading in particular helped me get in touch with my roots, so to speak.

I am especially interested by the conclusion of this set of book chapters in relation to designed objects, including (but not limited to) mass communication through the designed form. Koskinen, et al. quotes Dunne:

“The designer becomes an applied conceptual artist, socializing art practice by mobbing it into a larger and more accessible context while retaining its poten­tial to provoke people to reflect on the way electronic products shape their experiences of everyday life.”  (p. 96)

It is this perspective of “applied conceptual art” that is a bit difficult for me to reconcile, as I’m sure was intended in the original text. In working toward a definition of what might be considered within this category, as opposed to “pure” conceptual art or “pure” designed objects, making finer distinctions is necessary, however. Later in the reading, Koskinen, et al. regards a primary criterion to be the ability to mass produce an object, whether or not an object is necessarily destined for that future. This is where the differentiation starts to break down for me, as some artifacts could be misconstrued at one end of the continuum or the other based on this factor. Let me explain a bit more, since maybe I have a different working definition of “mass produced” than the author might. We can look at contemporary artifacts like the iPhone that are so complex that intensive hand assembly is necessary—mass produced, but also requiring individual attention and a modicum of craftsperson skill, at the least. But we can also turn to items that might seem impossible to mass produce at first glance, but might be able to be automated if market forces dictated. Much of this differentiation seems to be temporally located and subject to market forces.

So I get back to the setting that Dunne imagined, with a large institution like the MOMA facilitating mass communication of design ideas, either in a self-curated or externally-curated sense. Maybe it is because I have been working with the idea of design precedent for my final paper, but it seems like the presence of designed artifacts is the key attribute that is important here. And while museums are great at extending this knowledge base, in certain areas, other methods of mass communication already seem to be meeting similar or intertwined needs. I think immediately of the design annuals I have on my shelf, or in a more dynamic sense, the design section on my Flipboard. While these do not meet the requirements of physicality required by some artifacts, they do meet the stated goal of mass communication, and facilitate further work as a source of precedent.

In looking at this “applied conceptual art” from a designer’s standpoint, it seems like we could categorize many of the interactive themes found on the web and through other digital devices in the past couple of decades as stringing from a web of precedent. And like in Bolter & Grusin’s theory of remediation, the source is almost impossible to track, but clearly change has happened. The Koskinen, et al. article seems focused on the initial artifact that has the potential to start the design conversation, but one could look at the relationship in an opposite manner, understanding design trends by what artifacts (or confluence of artifacts) seemed to shift design practice. To me, this is the real locus of social and physical change, which can be seen through the lens of design practice.

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