“Order is Heaven’s first law”, a quote from Alexander Pope that I hold dear. Design to me is about creating specific order and organizing elements within it, which best accomplishes a task and establishes a framework for future improvements. Incidentally, this also almost coincides with Charles Eames definition of design – “Plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.” Despite the fact that, my academic and professional qualifications are coming from a technical background, I have always explored the avenues of design and finally taken a plunge to make design my purpose, my identity. In my design practice thus far, I look to grow from the principles taught by Don Norman – “Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding… Discoverability results from… affordances, signifiers, constraints, mappings, feedback and the conceptual model of the system.”
We all know that the world today runs on Einstein’s E=mc2 theory of energy to mass conversion. This is scientific, yes. However, as laypersons, do we ponder about the possibility that there can be more to this? Are we running the world with this, only because it’s the best-proven theory so far? I design because it’s required. The world is and probably will always be in a constant scope of improvement, and we need to build new and evolve the existing systems that caters to all, upholding all good values of humanity, nature and the universe around.
Is the world in perfect order? Are all our transport systems accessible to all humans? Is the ever-advancing technology easily comprehensible to its intended user and is it inviting to others? Are our systems perfectly inclusive of all mankind and if not do our systems make room for any change or inclusion? All these factors will always demand a new design. As long as there will be change, there will be the need for design, although it may take several forms. In the era of the Anthropocene, we will need to look at the world from different perspectives – varying human perspectives and also non-human perspectives (4), because we need to always go back to cyclic question of if we are defining or rather ‘limiting’ ourselves by our own human horizons.
If we reflect back on history, we can spot many flaws. However, while we cannot change history, are we all at the least aware of how it all truly unfolded? We are all proud of our cultures but are we truly aware of our cultural history, if we were born into power by oppressing the other, if we speak of peace today but only because we were the first to experiment with war and then decided otherwise? Design for the future must reflect on this. We need to correct and make aware of what has been left incomplete or ignored, for this world belongs to all. As an individual, it’s not possible to delve into the innumerable aspects of this world or humanity, but we can pick our important causes and always keep the big-picture in mind.
Design should be universal – even inside its intended audience, it should aim at being universal. There should be no bias to any human aspect, at least when designing for humans, and there should not be any bias to any form of life when designing systems open to the world. Being aware about this, is the first step for a good universal design.
Reflecting on ‘Mastery of Non-Mastery’ “We feel stronger with them. … They are no longer slaves to men.” which again, historically, is going away from the culture of “traditional orthodox” nations, yet there tends to exist age old patriarchal patterns, far away from the anarchism and feminism, amidst a culture trying to find a logical flow of power and survival with equality. These “norms” must be changed and questioned. There will always be an image of what people want to assume and they will put an image to something. “Rationalism must itself be a feminist” and going by this idea, design and the criticism of itself must go hand in hand. If design in itself cannot be questioned then it defeats its purpose and its definition. There can be order in chaos, only if the order can be debated and questioned, else the chaos stops and there is only rigid order.
While we speak of neutral mediums, it’s not easy to forget or ignore the ‘binary’. Digital 0 and 1, good and bad, what goes up comes down, young and old, liberal and conservative – we think in binary for everything! Our thoughts may not be binary when we’re born, but we are indeed born into a world where binary thoughts function, and hence we need to wait a long time in future when thought itself drifts away from the binary and getting into the queer. Today, words like mad, deaf and handicap are taken as offensive words to the mentally ill, hearing impaired and differently abled. Yet however, these words are positive in nature and help elevate the status of this population. Then how has the word queer – strange, odd, spoil, ruin, change – reached this level of acceptance? In the same way, while we should try and look at non-human perspectives as well, it’s important to look with an unbiased lens to create design without any bias – taking inspiration from the Cyborg as the metaphor to convey a view of feminism, equality and stepping away from ‘an identity’ but choosing a creature as a Cyborg to represent a neutral identity.
Design and its understanding should not be ironical. If we profess to be unbiased, let genders grow, let cultures change, then it should happen on their own, on their own choice, on their own accord. Any creation of a design system that influences this will cause a disruption. When I refer to this ‘natural’ flow of things, I do not mean the geological nature itself, but how the universe runs on its own and lets things evolve. We should encourage this and be wary of this in our design. We should step away from irony – in that, we should not make design that will force feed feminism or any other form of keeping the bias out, into a system by ‘breaking’ into it. Going against the ‘natural flow’ will again be ironical to our design definitions. While we say ‘create’ we should mean to push, enhance and encourage well-designed systems, and this over time will eventually suppress all bias – and need to step away from ‘injecting’ a campaign into the universe for a good or bad reasons. Going against nature is not ideal, because we all are part of it. On the same lines, our society ‘may have been shaped by a privileged few’. Are only White people responsible for the Black suppression? Are women marginalized today only by men? We are all victims of our own assumptions and we don’t realize who is not.
To reflect on design methods, looking into the Cyborg Manifesto the author quotes, Marshall McLuhan’s “Medium is the Message”. This thought has had a profound influence of me on how I try to perceive my form to build my design or the underlying concept. “This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium… by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology. …underlines the point that ‘the medium is the message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.”
Design must not make the user feel more insecure, than the user’s world is already subjecting him too – this statement goes for not just human users for even non-human participants in the design. Any insecurity decreases participation in the product and the discomfort generated by this will repel audiences for a considerable amount of time. Subjecting a society to harsh law, control, surveillance need not be the only way to look at this. Take another Asian country like Singapore – while everything is clean, organized and well set, this comes at a price where even though people aren’t subject to unfair laws, the stringent daily behaviour, guidelines, queues, ‘established methods’ among others build an imaginary prison of sorts. When humans are exposed and conditioned to work or behave in a certain ‘norm’, it is more likely to develop into a self-unconscious prison. This social-conformity experiment hits me hard as an example right now.
“The steady march toward a world where machines taught by humans make our lives easier, smoother, and more delightful has gone largely unquestioned.” This is dangerous and probably even true. They “serve to create noise and amplify misinformation” Everything is getting into AI. Ask the CEO of Google. “The future of Google is in AI.” Therefore, if this is the horizon we’re standing at, then the factors of consideration are now multiplied. The word non-human need not only mean a non-human natural life form. Our perspectives need to be expanded.
From all my design practice and understanding “the individual” placed within “smart cities, networks, biospheres” thus far, I hereby state my postulates of my approach to design:
- Stick to process of design and reiterate – for you may not know the audience well, you may miss subtle important factors that can lead to a huge magnitude of an impact
- Stay focussed with your idea in the ever-distracting world – distraction need not arise from bad things alone – there are several good things that distract too. The world has evil elements, but the fact that the world is so diverse, different, can also generate evil with a single misunderstood flutter of a butterfly’s wing.
- Design is iterative, reflective and we can redefine it. However, it should never cause irony or generate hypocrisy in any form.
- While being reflective and designing for the future, look for what adjectives people would use to identify your designs and your products. Always look to draw patterns from user’s reactions to your design and self-reflection on your own designs. These patterns must coincide and satisfy the above stated ideas of the how and why needs design.
- Question Design. Question Yourself. If you lose this part in design thinking, all is lost, irony dominated.
To conclude, just as how humans have now discovered paintings era’ ago of the first humans, we need to leave our future generations with our art, with our design. Not just in museums, galleries or places of installation, but in everywhere we have been, on the roads we walk, on the signboards we build, on the dams we construct, on our religious monuments, in our books and in wherever our thoughts unfold. The affordances, signifiers that our products generate from its design will be the guiding factor of discoverability and understanding for our future generations, as said at the start of this manifesto, as expected of how we are stitching our universe.