The use of objects is usually described from an anthropocentric point of view; people use, abuse or disuse objects. Recent technological advances, however, also allow objects to intervene in the process of their use. In this session, the students explored the agency of such objects with acclaimed designer Stijn Ossevoort and learned how their ‘behaviours’ can be put to productive use in art and design.
As designers, we try to create objects, which please the user, cause no discomfort, and support their activities. We create objects that would naturally fit the users’ needs. Through user research, user involved design or we try to understand the user in all their facets.
But what if objects take an active role in the user product relationship?
In prehistoric times, when humans started to learn about their environment they developed the urge to name the variety of species in order to pass on their knowledge. Initially the importance was a matter of life or death (dangerous species, food and plants for medicinal purposes) however in the 18th century it became a descriptive obsession with its own rules and regulations such as the claim of Linnaeus in his book, the Fundamenta botanica (1736), that the genus should first be determined before the actual species. His work formed the beginning of the binominal nomenclature of species. Linnaeus was convinced that the species were exactly created as the world was created by God and could not change.
Experiment No.1 – Shoe taxonomy
In a first experiment, we tried to imagine that products are designed by a deity. Through determination, each product can be given a name, genus, family, order etc. and therefore a “nomen triviale”, a descriptive binary name.
Each participant was requested to take of their shoes (“the species”), name it and add a story to provide information about its origin. After swapping the pairs of shoes, each participant had to imagine that they found an unknown species that needed to be determined. For each species, the participants had to fill in a determination table.
The system of Linnaeus is purely descriptive, it does not take evolution into account. To include the evolutionary process, a new system had been developed in the 1960’s under the name of phylogenetic systematics, better known as cladistics. Within cladistics, scientists reconstruct the origin of species in a family tree, a cladogram with branches called clades. This cladogram gives an idea about the relationship between species.
If we assume part of the world we design is a result of evolutionary processes could we create a cladogram for designed objects, in our case, a cladogram for shoes?
Experiment No. 2 – Product Cladistics
Future step in evolution
Since we have developed an understanding in the origin of shoes, we should be able to trace its development and anticipate a possible future. Instead of designing shoes we will used the cladogram to evolve the next design.
Each outcome had been discussed during the workshop and a few examples are shown above. Take into account that the process of this workshop had been more important than the outcome, the realisation that creativity is partly the result of an evolutionary process.
Veldonderzoeksleider Stijn Ossevoort is docent aan de bacheloropleiding Communication & Multimedia Design van ACUE in Breda en gaf middels het veldonderzoek Parasitical Objects/Subjects een kijkje in de keuken van zijn professionele ontwerppraktijk.