This post will largely be about the role of intention in Design, whether on the part of the author, critic, or audience. More, the notion of intention is necessarily relied to the meaning making that occurs when participating in design in any of the three roles (designer, critic, audience). Because design’s project is about proposing a new world, a world found to be new by the rethinking of moral systems, emotional responses to stimuli and greater emotional capacities, or the Beautiful, no one person or group of people can provide an argument that hinges upon truth value. Rather, design aims for the plausible, the new, the better, or the unexamined. If design’s project was similar to finding the hardest rock in a box full of rocks, agency and truth value would not be contentious. It is because design wrestles with the fundamental questions of what it is to be a person in this world, that design cannot obey truth value. In this way, design escapes (as Jeff said) the attraction of demonstrating some objective truth, but rather supplies a plausible interpretation of what it is to be human or how life can be lived.
“Design, too, is far more about changing the world than representing it, though certainly it makes heavy use of knowledge representations (e.g., market data, user studies, and social science) to do so.” (p.619)
If Design is said to be about future-making, in the quote as “changing the world”, then design’s main project begs an important question: what, if anything, can we really know about the future? That is, what can we say we know, here engaging Knowledge in a philosophical tradition, about the future. The conditions under which we subscribe something to knowledge don’t exist for future-thinking. At best, all we have for the future are predictions or fantasies we create. This idea is encapsulated by David Hume:
“That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation that it will rise.” – David Hume
Because future-building is the project of design, there is a certain sense of arrogance in the intentions of a critic or designer, if these intentions are characterized by only their truth value.
“Criticism, as I argued earlier, is committed to raising our perceptual ability, our ability to notice and make sense of the relationships between the formal and material particulars of cultural artifacts and their broader socio-cultural significance. ” (p.619)
Here the notion of audience agency is central. All of us, together, have an operator’s role in the meaning making of our future worlds. I forget which author said this but its the idea that we all create mini-Utopias rather than obey some authoritative notion of a utopian world. But this only works if we restrict Criticism to the role of finding value in relation to future-building. In this way, Criticism can improve our perceptual abilities — here making it a possibility for audiences to supply their own perspective on topics of moral systems, the Beautiful, emotional capacities, and other parts of life that have successfully evaded truthful definition for millennia. When it comes down to it, making a normative claim about any of these things limits the agency of audience (users for HCI).
Now, there are limitations to this. I am not saying intentions are valueless. Indeed artistic or designerly intention is vital to understanding a horror film as something enjoyable rather than a seriously disturbed perspective on the way life should be.