“Nothing could be deeper or more meaningful than the objects that surround us, what are “more numerous, more sound, and more subtle” than all the portentous symbols dredged up in sessions of Jungian analysis, about which ordinary people know nothing and regarding which artists may be deluding themselves in supposing they know more.” (Danto, p.79)

That quote comes at a point in the reading where Danto is describing the historical context, both in art and philosophy, surrounding the creation and publication of the Brillo Box. The abstract impressionism movement promoted a rejection of the daily culture in preference for a connection with the subconscious and primal expressions of humans. Pop art, in Warhol’s words “is about liking things” (p.74) The philosophical community was having a similar debate when it came to language and what kind of language we should be using to describe things, along with demoting the importance of common sense and “ordinary language”. Yet J.L Austin (Oxford Philosopher) makes a remark similar to what Danto says in the quote at the top of this post, and similar to the Pop art movement, saying:

“Our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth making, in the lifetimes of many generations: these are surely likely to be more numerous, more sound, since they have stood up to the long test of the survival of the fittest, and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonably practical matters, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our arm-chairs of an afternoon.” (p.78)

What this means to me, and in connection with the top quote, is that everyone, together, as an active role in the meaning making of how we interpret, interact, or perceive the world. Our objects we make are like the words we create to draw ‘distinctions and connexions’ with the world around us. Because of this, no artist, philosopher, or psychologist can tell us what is art, what is a well-designed object, or what language is truly appropriate for certain spheres.

This impacts my understanding of HCI design because we make digital objects. But like the artists, philosophers, and psychologist who cant tell us what to think, we can’t tell our users what a well-designed digital object is. This idea means a greater responsibility not to create dull, temporarily useful, objects that take up time in our daily lives and add little to them. But rather to approach designing objects, perhaps as ‘meaningless’ as another app or website, as you would creating a new word that will be added to the dialogue of humanity, perhaps standing the test of time.

My capstone project is about problem framing, and its relation to design or the design process, and reading Danto’s piece made me think about framing in a different way. If I think about an object like I would a word or piece of language, then there should be a clear reason for it to exist. While I can armchair my way through hundreds, maybe even thousands of potential new words (objects), this is in now way an effort equaling “all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth making, in the lifetimes of many generations” (p.78) THis gives me a new analogy to work with when trying to understand the link between problem framing and the design process. I think critical design can work in some ways like the Brillo box in that, while the Brillo box served to challenge nearly everything we understood art to be, critical design can serve to challenge designs as they solve a problem. Critical design can then challenge not only some finished design, but the problem framing and perhaps even the process itself.

I also think that this highlights the mandatory inclusion of outside perspectives in the design process, beginning with framing. We cannot sit in a room and think of the problems that exists in the world. At best, these problems will be cursory, much different from the complex, real problems that need actual solving. In understanding problem framing, I think this can be used to explain some of the problems of assumptions in the framing of problems, as well as bias in its many forms.

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