Monday, November 28, 2005

On Desire

When it comes to design and new technology we always end up in conversation where we discuss if this new tool or gadget is something we "need". And often we realize that we don't really need it but we still want it. We also know that there is an ethical issue related to this. We are as designers usually inclined to say we want to develop design in a direction where we create the things people need in a better way. It is something suspicious with design that is directed to create "need", or exploit basic desires that people have, if they are not "good for you". Usually these discussions quite quickly becomes confused and difficult.

Reading the book "On Desire --Why We Want What We Want" by William B. Irvine gives you some better foundation in those discussions.Link Irvine carries out an analysis of desire. It is done in a straight-forward way, easy to understand, but still firmly related to the philosophical history, psychological research, religious schools of thought. Irvine both tries to analyze desire, but also to give some general advise on how to deal with desire.

I think the book is a good reading for any designer involved in being in service of people's wishes, needs and desires.

A final comment. I like the design of the actual book. The unusual size and format makes the book interesting and appealing.


Katy said...

Hi Erik,
I am not sure if I understood this sentence right: "or exploit basic desires that people have, if they are not "good for you". Are you saying they are the same: basic desires and not "good for you." I somewhat have this idea that for certain reasons, people think desires are troublesome, if not really bad. If so, why?

Anonymous said...

Hi Katy

Well, the author Irvine who writes about desires, make a good case exploring all possible ways of understanding desires. He can probably answer you better than me ;-) But, I think you are right. It is common to see desires not as something necessarily good. We desire so many things that are bad for us. Too much food, too much rest, etc. Our desires might actually, if fulfilled harm our health. So, desires are not to be "trusted". Irvine discusses all historical and contemporary attempts to "handle" or "suppress" or "delete" desires. For instance, Zen buddism is a philosophy that tries to reach a state of no desires. Anyhow, for designers this is interesting, since it would mean that users don not know their own best. They might desire things that are not good for them. This is a fascinating topic and we could go on for ever discussing it...however, it is late and I desire to sleep ;-)

Katy said...

Hi Erik, I hope your desire to sleep was well fulfilled :)
Just a little more of what I think. I think if handled well (fulfilled in a reasonable way and no bad consequences), desires can be good. So it is not the desires themselves are good or bad, but our control of them. I may sound like I believe in "the end justifies the means" here. But I tend to think people are scared and feel powerless about their desires and that is why everybody blames it on desires instead of ourseves. (This is my case sometimes) That is why some philosophy like zen budhism tend to contain desires instead of guiding them in a positive way. Taoism does the same thing. One thing they advocated is "no action," which is pretty much like what the zen budhists do. There is an ancient legend about how to manage flood in Chinese history and I think it is a good analogy here.(I hope I didn't bore you to death with my naive ideas and thanks for reading to the end.)

Anonymous said...


I am pleased to read your comments, and far from bored ;-) I think you have a really good point. Since desires can provide us with energy and engagement, it is a good approach to try to find ways to guide them into good use, instead on containing them! I agree!

Anonymous said...

My god you do get some reading done these days Erik! I am trying my best too:

Bottom of page, below that beautiful picture.

Didn't get a single round of golf while in Atlanta. Where are my priorities!?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonny (anonymous!)

Well, I try to do some reading, have to keep up with the young guys!

I am waiting for your blog!


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