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**A Pragmatist Aesthetics Approach To The Design Of A Technological Artefact [Fiore, S.]

February 9, 2010

Taken from: A Pragmatist Aesthetics Approach To The Design Of A Technological Artefact
FIORE, S., WRIGHT, P. AND EDWARDS, A. (2005) A Pragmatist Aesthetics Approach To The Design Of A Technological Artefact, In Proceedings of the 4th Decennial Conference on Critical Computing: Between Sense And Sensibility, August 20-24, 2005, Aarhus, Denmark

Bibliographical Annotation

Fiore et al builds upon Petersen et al’s (2004) paper developing the dialogical experiential, embodied aspect of pragmatist aesthetics, and introducing ‘appropriation of objects as the aesthetic products of experience’ (pp129-130). Fiore et al see that with HCI adopting pragmatist aesthetics the discipline are opening up the scope of what behaviour and usability can be beyond what Don Norman defines as the first of three levels of beauty – the ‘visceral’ surface level (Emotional Design, 2005). Fiore positions Aesthetics as situational (a SITUATED ACTION?), an intrinsic resulting component of experience just as much as consummation and fulfilment. It is a reflective quality that emerges out of the experience, and only identifiable once the experience is exited. Therefore, they argue an object IS an event (p130). The meaning communicated by an object emerges out of how we use it, its social-cultural affordances and semiotic signifiers embodied in its form. Its significance and meaning is an appropriation through its creation, active use, and critique (p130). This aesthetical appropriation of an object therefore blurs the line between the user and designer, but connects the two in a creative act.

Useful Quotes

Aesthetics is a domain with an extensive genealogy which is reflected throughout the historical developments in design practice. In the context of this research, we are specifically concerned with the aesthetics of interaction, in which we see a broad distinction between the analytic, emphasising a view of humans as disembodied processors able to construct independent realities in the mind, and the pragmatic, which instead emphasises how people experience the world dialogically as embodied subjects. The critical difference between the two perspectives is in their legacy on our understanding of design: The former lends support to cognition as the foundation of interaction and a view of the designer as analyst aiming to meet objectively identifiable requirements in design, whereas the latter supports a more artistically-oriented idea about design, more able to account for the roles of emotion, engagement, the separation between objects-subjects and events unfolding unplanned as a normal feature of the instability of existence. Our preference towards pragmatist aesthetics emerges out of discontent with how approaches to design underestimate the relevance of fundamental characteristics of experience and understanding.” (p129)

A pragmatic aesthetics of interaction provides the basis for exploring an alternative conception of design based on understanding others (rather than interpreting observed behaviours or accepting propositional knowledge as certainty) and appropriation of objects as the aesthetic products of experience. Our work here involves theoretical and practical examination of how such an aesthetics can allow us to think more clearly about empathy in design. We explore a means for sighted designers to express their understanding of blind experience through the construction of artefacts and draw on appropriation, a fundamental process in aesthetic experience, as the basis for design empathy. Taking Dewey’s pragmatist aesthetics [A][B] and the related works of Shusterman [C][D] and Jackson [E] as a basis, we build on contributions seeking more holistic approaches to understanding and supporting experience in design [F][G][H] as well as others who reflect in design the details and subtleties of everyday life and blur the boundaries between
the ‘scientific’ and the ‘artistic’ [I][J].
” (pp129-130)
(A) Dewey, J. (1958). Experience and Nature. Dover
(B) Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. Capricorn
(C) Shusterman, R. (2002) Surface and Depth. Cornell
(D) Shusterman, R. (1992). Pragmatist aesthetics: Living beauty, rethinking art. Blackwell
(E) Jackson, P. W. (1998) John Dewey and the Lessons of Art. Yale Univ. Press
(F) Fiore, S. G. (2004). From designing for function to designing for meaning. In Proc. ECCE-12
(G) McCarthy, J and Wright, P. (2004b). Putting ‘felt-life’ at the centre of HCI. In Proc. ECCE-12.
(H) Petersen, M. G., Iversen, O. S., Krogh, P. G. & Ludvigsen, M. (2004) Aesthetic Interaction – A Pragmatist’s Aesthetics of Interactive Systems. In Proc. DIS2004.
(I) Dunne, A. & Raby, F. (2001). Design noir: The secret life of electronic objects. Birkhäuser.
(J) Gaver et al (2004) Cultural Probes and the value of uncertainty. In Interactions. September/October. 53-56.

Adopting a Pragmatist Aesthetics of Human-Computer Interaction prevents denigration of the senses to visceral satisfaction and is inconsistent with conceptions of interaction as the purely rational execution of routines. We are drawn towards an understanding of experience that holistically incorporates thinking, feeling, doing and effecting change within an intersubjectively constructed world: Experience has a consummation and fulfilment and an aesthetic quality which makes it intrinsically worthwhile. This quality is the indescribable sense we have of a situation: When we are in experience, we cannot describe it without first exiting it and transforming it into an object of reflection [A], but we may have a sense of the situation, a sort of immediate and pre-linguistic meaning or understanding that we feel [B]. However, when we encounter a situation that we cannot understand, we have to reflect on our experience and try to make sense of it. This may be reflection on second-hand propositional knowledge told by others or on something experienced directly for the first time. In this light, while understanding of an event when we are experiencing it may happen without conscious reflection on our understanding, making sense of the experience requires conscious reflection on the event. And this is central to our objectives here: An object is itself a form of event, with a unique past and future, whereby its meaning has been transformed through inquiry, enabling it to play a role in the conscious shaping of future experience [A]. As such, while we give meaning to events when we abstract and objectify them, that meaning may always change so that “an object is always an abstraction. It is like a sketch of the thing itself, a sketch in which certain features are highlighted and others overlooked.” [A, p25]. In the context of designing technological objects then, it is necessary to recognise the way in which the meaning we make of an object emerges both out of what we do [C] and the qualities an object embodies suggesting the potential for action and construction of meaning. Our interaction in the world thus enables us to construct meaningful experiences around objects [D] [E]. More importantly, as we select objects from our environment and give them meaning for the purposes of both utility and enjoyment [A], we appropriate them with respect for the historical significance they carry: We give things a meaning that no other person can and which we would not imagine for any other object in any other situation. The aesthetic of a technological object is then “a result of the human appropriation of the artifact… released in dialogue as we experience the world.” [F, p.271] so that an object achieves significance and meaning only when appropriated through active and critical reception and appreciated in its creation and use. The meaning of an object thus changes with respect to its history and significance. It is through an act of appropriation of the history of a thing that the perceiver is able to construct the meaning of an artefact as more than a functional object.” (p130)
(A) Jackson, P. W. (1998) John Dewey and the Lessons of Art. Yale Univ. Press.
(B) Dewey, J. (1958). Experience and Nature. Dover
(C) Dourish, P. (2001). Where the action is: The foundations of embodied Interaction. MIT Press.
(D) Petersen, M. G., Iversen, O. S., Krogh, P. G. & Ludvigsen, M. (2004) Aesthetic Interaction – A Pragmatist’s Aesthetics of Interactive Systems. In Proc. DIS2004.
(E) McCarthy, J. and Wright, P. C. (2004a). Technology as experience, MIT Press.
(F) Dreyfus, H. L. (2001). On the Internet. Routledge.

This appropriation requires a sensibility towards
the thing and its various levels of meanings. The aesthetic in the experience is thus rooted in the way in which this object is meaningful and transforms the perceiver’s understanding, making enjoyment so much deeper. Importantly, such notions of appropriation and construction of meaning do not imply merely interpreting an object to mean what we want, as this would deny all the enrichment and pleasure achieved from submitting ourselves to its alterity and seductive power [A]. The creative process is characterised neither by passive and irrational inspiration nor by a designer in full control of the productive process: these are instead both necessary and complementary moments of the experience of designing [A]. We at the same time bridge the gap between creating and perceiving by “reconceiving appreciation as creative production where the [perceiver] actively reconstructs the aesthetic object.” [A, p. 54]. The creative act is an experience which connects designer and audience. This has profound implications for our understanding of design. If appropriation of a thing involves actively constructing the aesthetic object and the experience, then the line begins to blur between the dualistic roles of designer and user. We can see a much closer and interdependent relationship between the experiences of creating and appreciating an object, because the very act of appreciating is itself constructive. Many questions consequently emerge regarding how we can realise the pragmatist ideals of design as a process of self-development, change, discovery and of reflection that is felt and sensed as well as intellectual.
” (p130)
(A) Shusterman, R. (1992). Pragmatist aesthetics: Living beauty, rethinking art. Blackwell

Each appropriation is unique and an opportunity for reflection by both the designer and others involved in the process, to find new meanings and possibilities within the emerging objects. Because of this, we see our current research as exemplary of one way in which appropriation may form the basis for an approach to design that is essentially exploratory and empathic. (…) In our process, appropriation is central to a series of creative phases involving designers, artists and engineers. (…) We can never know if our understanding corresponds with others’, but by adopting appropriation as our foundation in design, we respect and connect with the things others have already constructed out of their experience.” (p132)

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