The deceitful nature of design

I am reading here and there in Vilhem Flusser's book "The shape of things--a philosophy of design". Flusser is a thoughtful scholar with deep knowledge of the classics in many areas.

I was just struck by a section where Flusser elaborates on what design is. Flusser uses the notions of 'deception and trickery' as core in his definition. He says that when we design we create something, a machine, that tricks nature in our attempt to 'making a new form of culture possible'. With the use of technology and design we can create machineries that make the impossible possible, things that nature can't produce. But with this ability to deceive nature, comes responsibility. And this is where I found the quote that in a brilliant way describes the role of humans as designers.

"This is the design that is the basis of all culture: to deceive nature by means of technology, to replace what is natural with what is artificial and build a machine out of which there comes a god who is ourselves." (Flusser, p 19).


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This is both a wonderful and scary description. If by design, we humans approach a god like state, we as a consequence take on god like responsibilities. Who wants that responsibility? Who wants to be a god?

And Flusser continues. He brings in the question of value. He is warning us about the loss that design leads to. He writes:

"..a new perspective opened up within which one could create more and more perfect designs, escape one's circumstances more and more, live more and more artistically (beautifully). But the price we pay for this is the loss of truth and authenticity."


It is interesting to note that to Flusser, in this qoute, living artistically and beautifully is not the end all, the final goal or the life we should aspire to live. Instead, he argues for the 'truth' and 'authenticity'. This shift is something that others have pointed to, for instance, Brogmann in his 'device paradigm' theory. This relationship between the two theories become obvious when Fuller discusses 'value' and uses the cheap plastic pen as an example. He argues that when design replaced 'truth' and 'authenticity' with "perfectly designed artifacts" we find ourselves in a different world.  (This reasoning is similar to Borgmann's device paradigm. When Flusser writes "all these artefacts become as valuable as the plastic pens, become disposable gadgets." it resonates with Borgmann's idea of 'devices'. )

Flusser then states that this explanation of what design is, is aimed at "exposing the cunning and deceptive aspects of the word design....because they are normally concealed." I find this examination of the 'deceitful' nature of design desperately needed today. The explosive growth, interest and glorification of design has led to a situation where the expectations are exaggerated, the process is drastically simplified, the philosophy and nature of design is neglected. This glorification and neglect will inevitably lead to serious disappointments and backlashes. Flusser's examination and Borgmann's philosophy gives us tools to in a more sober way examine our designed world and the role of design.

Comments

Katarina said…
These thoughts got me thinking of Ulrich Beck and his concept 'risk society' where I would place the deceitful design in industrialization and hope and strive that it will be more rare in digitalization?

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