Theory, Practice — Art Design — Technology

I did a Pecha Kucha style presentation on some developing thoughts on the relationships between theory and practice, and the role of a hybrid, multiple art-design-technology approach to creating and circulating culture and knowledge. “Making things” can happen in lots of ways. I’ve tried two — engineering and art. And now design. It’s interesting for me to reflect on the different approaches to “making things” each discipline takes, as well as the core principles that guide doing what they do.

How do these practices deal with creating material that engages people? (Related to Nicolas’ recent post on a similar topic — how do different practices talk about people? How are they referred to, and how does that shape the nature of the research? The questions that get asked? And, then, what the outcomes mean, or how they materialized?

I think engineering as one of the preeminent, late-capital means of making things, with an operational and instrumental focus. The closest it gets to involving itself in people-practice is a rather instrumental language about “humans” and their measured abilities and tolerances. (Think, the British originated Human-Computer Interaction and Computer-Human Interaction.) Perhaps the worst description of people is as “users.” Referring to people as “users” may likely be the reason that the product of engineering work that is intended to be, well..products for people fail in their interaction design. Users are definitely not people with a large set of expectations, practices and characteristics. Users are singly-focused entities with a set of expected pre-existing knowledge and a very constrained range of possible actions based on the way engineering principles create options (opportunities) for interactions.

Art, best as I can describe in this context, is a practice that materializes dreams and engages social practice at that level ‚ fears, ambitions, aspirations, represented as “art” of some fashion. Recently, there has been some interesting collaborations amongst art and technology practice. It is in these collaborations that you find indications of that hyphen in art-technology — the places where the boundary between the practices becomes clear. Like, when an art-technology piece has you asking “how’s it work” — that’s a clear indication that there’s more techie-fetish than art or design.

Design seems to have a deep comfort and history with talking with and about people and their practices. In recent experience, this kind of helps make a few things clearer, like why there are so many chairs and lamps in the design canon. Thoughtful designed chairs that take into account not only the ergonomics of people, but the practices they engage in through a larger, richer vocabulary of possible activities that have to do with sitting (and standing from sitting) will likely do better than purely functional (engineered) objects.

What are the possibilities for a hybrid “making things” activity that takes into account the best of each of these broad knowledge and practice communities?