Friday, December 27, 2013

My book review: Talk To Me, Design and the Communication between People and Objects

I wrote this back in May, but it didn't seem relevant until I realized that I have to brush up on my knowledge of design for a 2D Design class I'll be teaching in January at EMU. This is going to be my last review of 2013 on the catalog/book for the exhibition "Talk to Me: Communication Between People and Objects" which was actually published back in 2011.

What stands for great design today doesn't usually translate into what interests me most at the moment: conceptual works that reflect on life.

A digital projection makes it easier to read the news, to say hello, to evoke your emotions, to play games, makes it easier to pray, to spray graffiti, to make cute hybrid animals, (and by easier I mean kind of expensive) so what? Somehow a device that is a metaphor for transferring useful information (it's meaningfulness is questionable) is meant to be lauded as progress. I see it as invention-porn, the excitement of being able to sell a million units to some people somewhere.

I think there's a problem here because all of the examples in the book assume that they represent a kind of consensus on problems and their solutions, but really it's use and audience is quite a narrow point of view. Not only that, but all of the ideas are in some way are about being so unique that it's patent is really really important. The distribution of the ideas that it contains is such that although it could inspire lots of useful applications, 99% of the time that will never happen because you'll have to pay someone for that idea that most likely came from somewhere else but was packaged better by them. If it's free that means that most likely it will ask to brand you, but most likely will do something along the lines of tracking your purchases to sell to companies. 

I'm hope that I don't come off as being anti-design or technology, I am interested in the collective aspects of both design and technology. I'm interested in objects that help us pause for reflection and honestly, I would probably like every product in this book if it somehow was made by someone anonymously and it gave names to people and companies that are willing to produce products similar to it. I like different design products, but I'm very practical in a radical way. I like computers that allow me to steal software and do my work and doesn't become obsolete after 3 years. I like that my iPhone allowed me to take video, track its whereabouts when I lost it and transfers my contacts to the next phone. In effect that means it allowed me to make art, make up for my regular difficulties in life but also to allow a semblance of its use (as an address book) to be able to be transferred easily. This is not how I define good design/technology, but what I do with this object is treat it as a different kind of tool, one which I don't mind if it tracked my every move since it could find its way back to me if I lost it, that seems like a fair trade (an iPhone is very expensive). If I don't want to be tracked, I just won't bring my phone with me, problem solved.

Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that we've got bigger problems. At this moment (I was applying to be a volunteer for GalGael in Glasgow) I have to prove that I should be able to volunteer for an organisation that I believe provides me with more meaning than any job I can apply for and yet I still have to be just as professional sans pay. Perhaps it is more important for people to take calculated risks bringing me on, than it is important for people like me to be able to take calculated risks. 

Or perhaps what most people dislike about 'design' is how it is advertised for maximum consumption, but should we be so offended by marketing? I might agree that it's appropriate to be angry at the ways that one can turn a phrase so that a 'want' appears to be a 'need' or fein that a physical product offers nothing short of 'happiness' with a dash of the 'american dream', but shouldn't we be spending our time thinking about how it's equally plausible to leverage something against itself, perhaps judo-like (trust-o-corp)? Or knowing the enemy better and through education/parenting do something that is equally powerful rendering oneself and others to be immune? And perhaps if there really was an issue with an advertisement (such as that it for example provokes subtle xenophobia) then we should instate our rights to make a response to be held up to the same volume level so that a conversation about values can take place, and a moment of reflection can occur.

Where I will end this 'review' is on the works that I did like and although I can't put my finger on what separates them from the rest, I do think it has something to do with when the design seems to crossover  into contemporary art that has greater implications, but I'll try to sum up something...

Why: It uses a culturally American angry conversation from a cult-film to affect the shapes of a traditional place setting that you have to see to believe.

Why: It anthropomorphises a picture frame that jealously messes with your other electronics.

Why: This is a small, simple tool that goes a long way to promoting individuals to develop their own business, I actually sold a work of art using this system.

Why: This work seems more like a work of art than a work of design as I'm sure these products exist already, so it must be more about the experience within the exhibition.

Why: It takes in account how technology has already changed our lives (towards artificiality) and uses it to function artificially better. There's a real interest in poetry in this person's work.

Why: This book concept is so good I wish that they could do this for every animal that people consume.

Why: Probably the easiest thing that people could recreate themselves and it almost seems like it doesn't belong in the book, but it's perhaps because it's so lo-fi.

Why: It seems almost strange that it took until 2004 for a project like this to be so popular that he has received half a million secrets, we should call this year the year of hope, because we all know how that turned out.

Why: The game is the application of survival of the fittest taken through its extreme of the cards one is dealt in life (our genes) This game would not nearly be as fun if it included socioeconomics.

Why: Taking the well understood of tracking packages to tracking crimes, it's a nice idea to promote civic participation, I'm also trying to fend off as much cynicism that I could have with this.

Why: This is probably an art exhibition that everyone thinks they thought of it, but was never able to pull it off 

Why: It reminds me of the amazing creativity that teachers can display with having no resources but given the task to explain not only the world, but the universe.
The Sun, 75cm Yoga Ball, Afroworld

Bat Billboard (Chris Woebken and Natalie Jeremijenko) 2008

Why: Imagine if this concept was used also for whales, did they ever end up proving causation between sonar and beaching? 

Why: Now that is effin' cute.

Why: It turns a game of war into pleasure

This book clarifies for me some things about the potential of design, and yet of all of these projects, no one has poetically considered augmented reality or used it in any meaningful way whatsoever. It is neither so basic that my imagination fills in the rest of the information, nor so advanced that I feel like it will change how we see the world. Also, this catalog is presented as a book with a few QR catalogs, really? I mean… really? Talk about missed opportunity.

1 comment:

Cedric Tai said...

It turns out there's a couple really intersting online bits along the same lines I am interested in...

One critiques the concept of 'innovation' as we currently hear about it so much in TED talks:

And another is well titled, "We say we like creativity, but we really don't"