In higher vocational education it is slowly but surely becoming a tradition to dress up the appointment of professors – as with professors at a university – in the paraphernalia of a ritual initiation. However, I hope that this speech is not regarded as a poor imitation of a university lecture. I see it as an opportunity speak to a wider audience about the value of research at an art college in general, and of the new professorship for product design and interior architecture in particular. A public statement of accountability, not only to my fellow professors, but also to the ArtEZ community, the professional field and society.
Art education in the Netherlands occupies an unusual position in higher vocational education. It has never felt comfortable with an orientation towards artists as professionals with a regular profession. As early as the nineteen sixties and seventies – with the major reforms of the Education Act – art education felt affinity with both the fundamental research of universities and the practical training of crafts schools. However, unlike the educational developments abroad, Dutch art education has never become a university faculty. More than twenty years before Henk Bergdorff called for a Dutch faculty of the arts on behalf of art education, various academy directors argued that the arts were entitled to practice what they termed Pure Artistic Research, besides – what was then still called – Pure Scientific Research.
The separation between science and art, between thinking and doing, between fundamental research and creative application, which artists felt to be unnatural, is now being removed. The PhD regulations of some Dutch universities now make it possible to obtain a doctoral degree with artistic work. The Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences has had an Academy of Arts since 2014. ArtEZ University of the Arts recently adopted a protocol of substantive and financial support for employees who wish to obtain a doctoral degree. Scientific thinking and artisanal making are inextricably linked. Or, as Leonardo da Vinci put it: ‘All knowledge which ends in words will die as quickly as it came to life, with the exception of the written word, which is its mechanical part.’
..various academy directors argued that the arts were entitled to practice what they termed Pure Artistic Research, besides – what was then still called – Pure Scientific Research.
I sometimes tend to try and reduce the extremely complex world to very simplified diagrams (fig. 1)
These diagrams are of limited value: they are not reality itself and are, moreover, interchangeable with any other credible diagram. But as a tool for structuring thoughts and arguments they are extremely useful. In this speech, I wish to take you on a journey that visits the concepts of ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘think’ and ‘do’. A journey through personal and professional stations. Because the separation between personal and professional is also artificial. On the basis of these concepts, I hope to make two things clear:
- what my views are on the type of research that I advocate in an art college;
- the importance of this type of research by artistically-motivated product and interior designers for people and society.
We • the world
‘Transition’ is one of the most frequently used words of this era. The only certainty we have today is that we are constantly moving and changing. A society in transition explicitly raises the question of where people still feel physically and mentally at home. The unprecedented possibilities of today’s technology make our daily lives take on a radically different dimension. Private and public, work and home, physical and virtual, local and global; these are concepts that are barely distinguishable in this new reality. Social and cultural changes also pose questions for our home and living environment. The unprecedented influx of immigrants with different lifestyles and a rapidly ageing population calls for new solutions for housing.
In an environment that is fluid and uncertain, more than ever people cling to the basic requirements of life: shelter, protection and identity.
In an environment that is fluid and uncertain, more than ever people cling to the basic requirements of life: shelter, protection and identity. As biological creatures, people’s first priority is to provide food, clothing and a home, and the ingredients, materials and tools necessary to prepare and make them. But besides being a homo faber, humankind is above all a homo semioticus, whose individual identity and that of the community are derived from a meaningful environment. The current complex, highly individualised and advanced technological society poses designers the essential question of how our living and working environment can be designed meaningfully.
Designers know better than anyone that they not only give shape to things, but that things also shape people.
This is not an easy task. Despite our advanced technology and the increasing scientific knowledge, we constantly struggle with issues that can no longer be solved from one area of expertise. Increasingly, we see that artists and creative thinkers are called upon for these so-called wicked problems. Apparently they have something to offer technology and science. Artists and designers educated at art colleges have developed a high level of sensitivity for the visual, material, cultural and historical context in which people live.
This sensitivity makes them pre-eminently suited to act as intermediaries between people and things. Designers know better than anyone that they not only give shape to things, but that things also shape people. Design is less of a problem-solving activity than we think. Design creates objects that give us an opportunity to fulfil a function in a specific way.
A spoon is not the ultimate solution for carrying liquid food to our mouth (fig. 2 - 3)
. We can also raise the bowl of soup directly to our mouth. Most chairs do not offer ultimate comfort (fig. 4 - 6)
. On the contrary, we adapt our way of sitting to the specific shape of the chair. With their bodies, eyes, ears and hands, people are constantly negotiating with objects and their surrounding space. The designer is the most important mediator in these negotiations.
Moreover, designers are trained to reframe existing ideas and to imagine new social scenarios that go beyond solving a concrete problem on behalf of a public or commercial organisation. Louise Fresco, president of the executive board of Wageningen University & Research centre, calls artists and researchers ‘professional curious people’, and ascribes the role of ‘explorers’ to the first group and ‘intensifiers’ to the second.
Sometimes the roles are reversed and artists and designers challenge researchers to, for instance, develop new materials and functions. Industry associations – representing the interests of business – such as Modint for fashion, textile, carpet and interiors and CBM for interior design and the furniture industry, are also increasingly seeking collaboration with creative designers. The major challenges in these sectors demand different approaches, in which creative thinkers, but above all creative doers play a crucial role. These days, concepts such as design thinking
and design research are presented in many policy plans as a remedy for entrenched notions, group thinking and tunnel vision in the business world, or for congested and bureaucratised organisations. The expected side effect of this remedy is innovation. Design thinking, however, quickly degenerates into mindlessly sticking coloured pieces of paper to a board during brainstorm sessions in uninspiring rooms with low suspended ceilings and lukewarm coffee in plastic cups. Design research involves more than inviting scientists for a design task or interviewing a representative group of stakeholders about the solution to a collectively identified problem. But what does the artistically trained designer have to offer this complex and changing world as a design thinker or design researcher?
I do • the bricoleur
To answer this question, I want to take you back to my earliest childhood. A trip back to my young ‘I’. After all, personal motivations and individual thinking and doing are formed at an early age. What you see here is the habitat of my youth. My father’s studio (fig. 7)
. An environment in which I learned about the materials and techniques of a visual artist. Clay, paint and coloured pencils were always close at hand. A press for etching and lino prints, a mounted drill, an oxyacetylene welder, and a kiln. The doing was not confined to the studio. In the winter my bedroom was strewn with Lego bricks, in the summer I made huts, carved spinning tops from old table legs or built a Canadian canoe with my own hands.
An environment with all the characteristics of a domestic space, as art sociologist Pascal Gielen calls the first of four areas that he identified in which the artistic or design practice develops.
A space that is not limited to ‘home’, but which does have everything from a domestic environment. A space in which parents, children and friends maintain a confidential and intimate relationship. A space that allows experimentation and failure, where the singing can still be off key, where air guitar and air drums are often played, and parents turn a blind eye to children scratching the table top. A space in which the world is discovered, collected, recorded and arranged in the form of stones, shells and coins. A space where the slowness of meditation and daydreaming prevails. This domestic space is beautifully described by the Italian designer Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007). Looking back on his childhood from his adult design practice, he writes: ‘When I was very small, a little boy of five or six years old, I was certainly no infant prodigy, but I did do drawings with houses, with vases and flowers, with gypsy caravans, merry-to-rounds and cemeteries (perhaps because the First World War had only just ended) and then, when I was a bit older, I built beautiful, sharp-pointed sailing-boats, carved with a penknife out of the tender bark of pine-trees from Mount Bondone; I also built a steamboat (which sank immediately) from wood and metal strips, and used a school friend’s toy steam engine. (…) I’ve always found it the most natural thing in the world to spend my time like this, to try to the best of my ability, together with the others, to become one with the passing time, one with the planet that flings us in and out of the seasons. (…) Neither I nor the others considered ourselves designers, artists, craftsmen or technicians in the service of the community: we were not looking for clients or spectators, approval or disapproval outside that of ourselves. Whatever we did, the reward was in the making itself, in the desire to make it’.(fig. 8 - 9)
Floris Hovers (4.13min)
The urge to do things and the will to materialize feelings and thoughts are the basis of the design practice. Everyone in this domestic space is a ‘handy’ person. A craftsperson, who does not consider his or her work as a means to a useful end, but as an end in itself. Craft as a pleasurable, practical and integrating activity of the hand and heart, technique and science, art and craftsmanship.
In his collected works Beitelen aan de eeuwigheid
(Chiseling to Eternity), essayist Gerrit Krol (1934-2013) argues that we only become ‘unhandy’ when we enter a school system, where there is still ‘a primitive contempt of the head for the hands – which is a stupidity in itself. (…) We place knowledge above ability. Moreover, we assume that everything we know is in our head. And that is not the case.’
Krol proceeds to show the reader the physical knowledge that the handy person develops in their childhood by learning to write and draw, to ride a bicycle and tie their shoelaces.
The urge to do things and the will to materialize feelings and thoughts are the basis of the design practice.
In the domestic space, physical experience is central; learning by doing, trial and error or – often in the literal sense – by falling down and getting up again. A form of knowledge that cannot be found in the theoretical textbooks. Every parent, educator or teacher knows that verbal, written or visual instructions alone are not sufficient (fig. 10)
. Here the ancient method of imitatio
applies, as it has always applied in all workplaces throughout the world: the master demonstrates and corrects, the student imitates and improves. According to neuroscientist Dick Swaab, imitation behaviour – or mimicking – is rooted in our body through evolution. The mind automatically stimulates what it sees in its surroundings. ‘Looking at someone else’s hand movement’ according to Swaab, ‘activates broadly the same neurons that are activated when you make the hand movement yourself.’
It is a form of learning by which the handy person, through much practice, develops ‘tacit’ or ‘embodied knowledge’ that the body will never forget – or perhaps more precisely – that will never leave the body. In the same way that we associate our brain with a cognitive memory for what we know, our body has a physical memory for what we are able to do.
It is a form of learning by which the handy person, through much practice, develops ‘tacit’ or ‘embodied knowledge’ that the body will never forget – or perhaps more precisely – that will never leave the body.
But is the artisan I outline here also a researcher? Let us limit ourselves to the domain of the domestic space. A space in which – as Sottsass contends – these concepts are as yet unknown. What we do and make in this space has the obviousness of the everyday. In the domestic space we are all bricoleurs and not engineers, in the sense that cultural philosopher Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) invests it with.
The hobbyist feels at one with the surrounding world and works with whatever is available. Something breaks and we fix it with a plank of wood, nails and wire from the shed. We cook with the leftovers from the previous day. We have a desire for play and adventure and therefore build a treehouse or a castle from wooden blocks.
The engineer, on the other hand, is a modern scientist who has isolated himself from the world around him. He devises concepts, plans, blueprints to impose on the world that is meaningless to him. He is focused on a goal and sees his thoughts and actions as a means to achieve it. For the hobbyist, the making is a goal in itself: he makes use of the signs and meanings that already surround him, such as the tools and materials with which he works. He derives his pleasure from the discoveries, random events and unexpected combinations during the making process. The ‘wild thinking’ of the bricoleur – which is essentially distinct from the creative thinking of the engineer – has no specialism. The hobbyist feels himself a designer, researcher, architect, poet and gravedigger in one. He is both the producer and consumer of his own imaginings.
This self-evident production and use are typical of the so-called vernacular design, a form of design that occurs in what design theorist Christopher Alexander calls ‘unself-conscious cultures’.
Cultures of large or small communities in which stability, continuity and social cohesion take precedence over change, innovation, specialisation and individualism. Communities in which the craft knowledge is passed from parents to children, from masters to apprentices. There is not yet a system in which the designer, as a specialist, has alienated himself from the public for whom he designs. The I still coincides completely with the WE. For the bricoleur, the WE has not yet become a THEY: an anonymous and unknown public. Or, as Sottsass describes his role as a designer in the consumer society: ‘These days I’m a professional acrobat, actor, tightrope walker for a public that I don’t know and can hardly imagine – or rather, a public that I myself invent, that does not concern me and with which I have no contact, people whose talking, applause and disapproval I hear only as a muffled echo.’
In the domestic space we are all the designer, artist, researcher, inventor, explorer, user, client and consumer. We have no theory, we possess and develop mainly implicit, embodied knowledge.
In the domestic space we are all the designer, artist, researcher, inventor, explorer, user, client and consumer. We have no theory, we possess and develop mainly implicit, embodied knowledge.
I do • the designer
In 1985 I enrolled as a design student at the art college in Arnhem. (fig. 11 - 12)
Anyone who goes as a domestic bricoleur to the communal space – the second space identified by Gielen, where the praxis of the artistic practice develops – becomes caught up in a social domain where the head begins to dominate the hands, in which a separation between practice and theory is likely. Gielen gives the classroom, workshop or lecture hall of an art college as examples of communal spaces. Spaces that are distinct from the domestic domain due to the exchange of ideas between peers and professionals. The domestic space is still a free and relatively noncommittal space. The communal space is less noncommittal: the actions and thoughts of students are reflected upon from a professional attitude, in the literal sense: the bricolage is considered and criticized from the perspective of a future profession. The similarity between the two domains is the freedom to experiment. In both spaces, trial and error and wasting time and energy are desirable and essential elements of the learning process. This is in contrast to the other two domains identified by Gielen: the civil space, in which a critical public assesses the deeds of the artist, and the market space, where art and artists are subjected to the economic principles of supply and demand.
When I began in Arnhem, I expected theoretical training to go hand-in-hand with a solid practical training in well-equipped workshops. After five years at the academy, I found that the training was mainly practical in nature and the theoretical training was limited to a few lessons of art history and philosophy. This was not a unique situation. The majority of national and international design academies have a curriculum in which more than half consists of practical workshop training, with the principle of learning by doing.
Workshops, studios and design studios are the core of design education. A strange observation given that the art academy emerged in the sixteenth century as the institution where the craftsman could emancipate himself as an artist with scientific knowledge through theoretical training. But in the early nineteenth century, history created its own reflection by emancipating the artist – who many believed had become too isolated from society as a romantic genius – as a craftsman in the service of community art and applied design. A direct consequence of this was the introduction of the workshop in arts and crafts education between 1900 and 1930. My father’s studio in the domestic space was replaced by the workshop of the Arnhem Academy of Art in the communal space. What did that transition mean for the relationship between thinking and doing, between practice, theory and research?
Workshops, studios and design studios are the core of design education.
A workshop can take very different forms: from the medieval guild workshop and the nineteenth-century Meisterklasse to the modern design studio. The guild workshop was the reference point for the nineteenth-century arts & crafts movement. A workshop in which no theoretical training took place. There, through the principle of imitatio, people learned both the practical skills and the design, which was determined by the academically trained artists. Design, after all, belonged to the domain of arti del disegno: painting, sculpture and architecture in which a design, a sketch, a visual concept was needed first, which was then produced by a craftsman. A concept that required scientific insight into how we perceive the world and knowledge of how to reproduce it in two or three dimensions, or even produce it in an improved, idealised form. The concept of disegno contains the origin of our current design: an intellectual and creative act that is separate from and prior to the practical realisation.
The concept of disegno contains the origin of our current design: an intellectual and creative act that is separate from and prior to the practical realisation.
Historically there have been several attempts to document and transfer the knowledge of the guild workshops, such as the renowned 28-part Encyclopédie
of Denis Diderot (1713-1784), which was published between 1751 and 1772 and contains 72,000 articles on science, art and crafts (fig. 13)
Diderot was a scholar who went into the field, like a modern anthropologist, to learn the specific characteristics of craftsmanship. In so doing he encountered the problem of ‘embodied’ or ‘subconscious’ knowledge that cannot be conveyed through words. He therefore decided to become an apprentice in the workshop to gain ‘enlightenment’ through practice. The result was a meticulous visual documentation of craftsmanship. However, the Encyclopédie
was not intended as a practical handbook for designers. The documented knowledge was, after all, widely available: it was passed on from master to apprentice in the guild system.
That was not the case when English designer William Lethaby (1857-1931), director of the Central School of Arts & Crafts in London, published the first of The Artistic Crafts Series of Technical Handbooks
in 1907 (fig. 14)
. These handbooks for bookbinding, goldsmiths's art, costume design, embroidery, carpet weaving and typography, among other things, were explicitly intended as handbooks for students who could no longer learn the craft through the guild system, which was abandoned in the late eighteenth century. Unlike the engravings in Diderot’s Encyclopédie
, the illustrations in The Artistic Crafts Series
functioned as instructional drawings.
With its integrated practical and theoretical training, the Bauhaus workshop became the most important example for the contemporary international design academies
The handbooks can be seen as a body of knowledge for the design practice – or more precisely for craftsmanship. The knowledge is instrumental and instructive in nature and focused solely on acquiring skills. The books served as a replacement for the guild masters. They are for makers and producers, not for designers and concept thinkers. Design principles are not described in the books. Only with the advent of the Bauhaus in 1919 – a combination of an art and a craft school – was a course created in which the artisanal and later also industrial production was linked to design theories. With its integrated practical and theoretical training, the Bauhaus workshop became the most important example for the contemporary international design academies (fig. 15 - 16)
The artisan’s workshop is not only an environment characterised by the learning (picking up) of ‘embodied’ knowledge or a ‘practical philosophy’, to use a term of the craft specialist Peter Dormer.
The workshop also embodies a work ethic. Ever since the arts & crafts movement, craft has stood for ‘honest handiwork’. Essential to this ethic is that the designer retains control over the design and production process with his mind and hands. He may then be an artist of the disegno, his idea is realised by himself or is under his direct control.
In the nineteen sixties, the moral aspect of design was underlined by G.J. van der Grinten of the Delft University of Technology, the first professor of industrial design in the Netherlands. In his inaugural speech, he used the distinction between labour and work as defined by the philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). Labour is the necessary activity that humans must perform to survive as biological creatures. Work is the ability that counteracts the ‘unnaturalness’ of our existence and provides us the ‘artificial things that belong in the human household’.
In a mechanised – and now also digitised and automated – world, work is in danger of degenerating into labour. According to Van der Grinten, ‘the artist is (…) strictly speaking the only remaining full worker in a company of labourers.
In a mechanised – and now also digitised and automated – world, work is in danger of degenerating into labour. According to Van der Grinten, ‘the artist is (…) strictly speaking the only remaining full worker in a company of labourers’.
The self-producing designer – a phenomenon that emerged in the Netherlands in the nineteen seventies, as a response to a crumbling and conservative industry for, among other things, interior products – strives not only for a more beautiful, but also a better world. Beginning with himself as a modern artisan who prefers to organise the idea, production and the relationship with his audience as if still operating in the domestic space of his childhood.
Thus it is not only the embodied knowledge that characterises the modern artisan, but also the way he works, maintaining control over the idea, material, production, sale and use.
Thus it is not only the embodied knowledge that characterises the modern artisan, but also the way he works, maintaining control over the idea, material, production, sale and use. In the current developments towards a circular and sustainable society, this means that designers also deal with waste disposal and the possible reuse of the materials with which they make their creations. The new artisans are called Bas van Abel and Tjeerd Veenhoven. They don’t design products, but value chains in which ethical principles regarding humans and the environment are the main drivers (fig. 17)
In their book Design Expertise
, design professors Kees Dorst and Bryan Lawson attempt to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the contemporary Bauhaus-inspired workshop model of the international design academies. Like Gielen, they characterise the communal space of the workshop as a free space in which, for example, time is unstructured and people are not bound by fixed lesson times. The studio constitutes a social working community in which ideas are freely exchanged between students and between students and teachers. This only works well when similar values and norms are applied within the community and there is not too much competition. The working method is informal, intuitive and experimental and the practical exercises encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience. The workshop is the domain of the designer as a reflective practitioner, who integrates his personal knowledge and experience into the design process, the domain in which human and material, and human and technology are constantly interacting. The actions are not carried out according to an acquired theoretical framework. A method that philosopher Donald Schön (1930-1997) calls a ‘reflective conversation with the situation’.
The workshop is the domain of the designer as a reflective practitioner, who integrates his personal knowledge and experience into the design process, the domain in which human and material, and human and technology are constantly interacting.
Dorst and Lawson also recognize drawbacks in the dominance of the workshop model. The strong focus on the workshop as a design studio makes the learning of instrumental skills and acquisition of specific knowledge a marginal activity. Something I experienced myself in my student days. A greater contrast between practice and theory was barely conceivable at that time. There was virtually no relationship between the theory lessons and the workplace. The main difference was – and still is – that in the darkened theory classrooms we always reflected upon everything that has
been made and thought, while in the abundantly-lit workshops of the Rietveld building, students and teachers were working on what can be made and thought. Design is a future-oriented activity. Designers produce visions of a different, better, or indeed apocalyptic future. They are utopians, dystopians, future speculators. Through their efforts, they realise a desired future or show the possibilities, dangers and limitations thereof.
The future was given form in the workshop of my course. Here, a speculative and productive spirit roamed. In the theory classrooms of the art college, the talk was only about past actions. A historical, reflective attitude was dominant. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is mindful that an ahistorical attitude is necessary to actually create something new. Thus in On the use and abuse of history for life
, he writes: ‘Nevertheless this condition – unhistorical, thoroughly anti-historical – is the birthing womb not only of an unjust deed but even more of a very just deed. And no artist would achieve his picture, no field marshal his victory, and no people its freedom, without previously having desired and striven for them in that sort of unhistorical condition (…) he is also always without knowledge. He forgets most things in order to do one thing; he is unjust towards what lies behind him and knows only one right, the right of what is to come into being now.’
Designers produce visions of a different, better, or indeed apocalyptic future. They are utopians, dystopians, future speculators.
Providing specific knowledge and expertise that can enhance the workshop model becomes increasingly important as a society and its production systems become more complex. Outside of art education, in the nineteen sixties and seventies that led to the first forms of design research: research aimed at organising complicated design processes in the best possible way. A necessity in the post-war industrial (mass) production and large-scale building and infrastructure projects.
But these are areas in which art education has never felt comfortable. Thus, the methods developed there rarely found their way into the design courses at the art academies. They continued to focus on a highly individual and intuitive design approach, artisanal methods and the materials- and technology-oriented methods of the Bauhaus. But anyone who wants to make meaningful work as a designer in our modern society can no longer rely solely on their own experience and intuition. In 2003, when Dorst sketched a portrait of the artist in 2015, he wrote: ‘First-hand experience will be as important as ever, but it needs to be complemented with a real grasp of the issues in this connected world. If we underestimate the complexity and subtlety of the networked world we live in, the thoughts and things we produce will be naïve, based on gross simplifications, and irrelevant to people in the real world. We need to keep abreast of the changes that technology is imposing on our culture and society. Artists and designers who fail to do so will end up being forced to turn their backs on the world, becoming pessimistic, conservative (...), or – worst of all – purely self-referential.’
The bricoleur trapped in his own ‘I’.
But anyone who wants to make meaningful work as a designer in our modern society can no longer rely solely on their own experience and intuition.
The design methods of the first generation, incidentally, proved largely unsuccessful, as they failed to take into account the individual and social needs of the user. They were mainly conceived with a view to efficient production methods and practical uses and had little consideration for the social and cultural context of the anticipated users. The WE related more to the interests of the clients than the end-users.
In the sixties and seventies, the perspective changed and user participation and user-driven design became central concepts in the design methodology. That led to a changing focus on the relevant scientific disciplines: this shifted from system theory, cybernetics and ergonomics, to psychology, sociology and anthropology. Areas of knowledge that are not yet recognised as specialisms in the domestic space, but which are necessary in the market place to turn bricoleurs into professional acrobats, who can use target-group analysis and ethnographic fieldwork to reconnect with the public that had become unknown to them.
Dorst and Lawson identify another important disadvantage of the workshop model. Because there are no generally recognised design theories, designers always have to make contextual work. They must be able to act situationally and strategically. That is: a designer must know how to determine which knowledge, skills, acquired methods and experiences he can apply in any situation. The meaning and usefulness of a design can only be truly tested in the complex reality. Practical assignments and studio projects in education can never simulate this complex reality. The workshop is thus a kind of scientific laboratory. These days, everything is called a laboratory, with the suggestion that the ultimate experiment is conducted there. However, the most important characteristic of a scientific laboratory is that you design a controlled environment where you can test certain things by eliminating a lot of variables. The results are only valid in the lab and are only partly applicable to reality, if at all. That, of course, does not apply to design tasks that have to function in everyday reality. The world has an infinite number of variables; the workshop can only be a very limited reflection thereof.
Because there are no generally recognised design theories, designers always have to make contextual work. They must be able to act situationally and strategically.
I think • the scientist
One of the main reasons for me to do a follow-up study at the university was that I wanted to discover which universally applicable design theories or generally accepted rules are available for designers. Much of what is described as design theory turns out to be mainly a manifestation of an ideology. Thus, professor emeritus of typographic design Gerard Unger calls the graphic design principles developed in the nineteen twenties and thirties ‘opinions and dogmas based on often inaccurate assumptions’.
The ornamentation training for the decorative arts extensively studied by Mienke Simon Thomas lost its significance around 1940 due to, as she concludes, ‘a declining belief in the existence of universal rules in the decorative arts’.
In the early eighties, the design principles of the Bauhaus that had been taught for decades at the academy were questioned and largely abandoned as a form of period-specific and now despised ideology. Also at the start of my PhD research, I still asked myself: ‘Does design education rely on beliefs?’ ‘Does it switch its ideology and thus its theoretical insights for another according to the time and place? Or do theories exist that have retained their value to contemporary design education regardless of the historical context?’.
One of the important conclusions of my dissertation The house of I. Ideology and theory in the Netherlands’ design education
is that the teaching of theory on design courses at art academies – whether or not this has generally applicable values – is largely an ideological choice (fig. 18)
. A choice that is based primarily on the profile of the artist appointed by the academy or course to teach its students.
Cultural sociologist Jacob van der Tas obtained his PhD in 1990 with a study in which he made an explicit connection between the teaching of artists and theorising. He defined three types of artist, based on the relationship that an artist or designer enters into with his audience in the form of, for instance, clients or buyers, such as religious and secular authorities, commercial companies and individuals.
One of the important conclusions of my dissertation The house of I. Ideology and theory in the Netherlands design education is that the teaching of theory on design courses at art academies – whether or not this has generally applicable values – is largely an ideological choice
The first type – the distanced artist or bohemian – attaches little value to this relationship and even ignores or denies it. This artist wants to see his artistic creations as separate from the wishes, demands and personal preferences of clients, observers or consumers. He claims artistic autonomy for his practice, which is based primarily on an innate talent. Thus he does not need to learn much; he demands space and freedom to allow his talent to come to fruition. His educational domain is the Meisterklasse: a teaching model developed in the nineteenth century under the influence of German romanticism. In the master’s studio, the student is permitted to witness the comings and goings of an artistic genius. No direct transfer of knowledge takes place in the studio; there is full freedom to work on a personal visual idiom, which is subjective-symbolic in nature. That is to say: the personal form of expression is more important than a formal language understood by the public. Communication skills need not be learned: the bohemian relies on his charisma.
In contrast, we have the dependent type – also referred to by Van der Tas as the craftsman – who is subservient to his public, sharing the values of that public and visualising and symbolising these values on the basis of his artistic ability. His theoretical education is focused on training skills and learning a widely recognizable, objective-symbolic formal language. This involves instrumental knowledge that – as previously outlined – is transferred via textual and visual means, and above all through imitatio. The craft workshop is the most important educational domain for the dependent type. The education culture relates to concrete demands and requests from the (labour) market.
The third type – the professional artist – is independent and seeks an equal relationship with his public, based on his own specific field of knowledge and skills. It is this type of artist or designer that, in the nineteenth century, learned the doctrine of ornamentation at the crafts schools of Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam, the principles of Gestalt psychology at the Bauhaus, the principles of visual rhetoric and product semantics at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, and the methodical product analysis of Wim Gilles at the Academy for Industrial Design Eindhoven (AIVE). Design theories all of which are discursive in nature and can therefore be taught in the design classroom. The knowledge and skills to be taught in the design classroom are focused on the mastery and understanding of the future (labour) market. The professional artist develops an intersubjective-symbolic visual idiom that is understood by fellow artists, but which clients and public often have to be convinced of. To this end, he learns communication skills.
When I look back on my training in Arnhem with this knowledge, I recognize many aspects of a distanced educational model. In the eighties – under the influence of Italian design – the designer was increasingly seen as an artist and design as a form of art. Art and design come together in a highly conceptual approach, in which the power of the visualised idea is more important than the craftsmanship of the realisation. The orientation towards knowledge derived from the properties of materials and production techniques largely disappears. The creative spirit of the individual becomes the focus and this is at odds with generally accepted design principles or the learning of handicraft instructions. The influence of Bauhaus ideas about the use of form, colour and materials was still discernible in some individual teachers, but they were increasingly questioned. The postmodern thinking made the Bauhaus a period-specific and arbitrary style. It denied the scientific basis and the experiences of artists and designers that were the foundation for the form and colour theories, laws that even now are regarded – including by the aforementioned Swaab – as universally valid for the aesthetic principles in visual art, architecture, fashion and advertising. The artistic concept began to predominate in the workplace in Arnhem. Design became a form of visual criticism of its own design tradition. The public no longer consisted of users, but of visitors to design exhibitions in galleries and museums. The design world modelled itself entirely on the art world: with the designer as a creative genius, oeuvre prizes and museum exhibitions to honour him and a subsidy system that gave him the artistic freedom to experiment independent of economic or social interests. Both the instrumental theory of the craftsman and the discursive theory of the professional designer were pushed entirely to the margins of the course. The workshop became a Meisterklasse and all the students appointed their favourite teacher as their master.
Design became a form of visual criticism of its own design tradition. The public no longer consisted of users, but of visitors to design exhibitions in galleries and museums.
We do and think • artists and scientists
I only outline briefly a part of my research here. For those who want to know exactly how the Dutch art academies and specifically the design courses for fashion, graphic and product design related to these three types between 1921 and 2000, I recommend you read my dissertation. The most important observation I wish to mention here is that theory and research can only play an important role when the courses and academies have the intention to connect the I with the WE. Between DO and THINK, the designer must develop a strategy on how he designs and researches. Between I and WE, the question is asked why and for whom he designs and researches. Those who remain close to the I as a designer do not need to justify themselves to the WE. While in the domestic and communal space, I and WE are still inextricably linked and implicitly understand each other subconsciously, in the civil and market space the relationship between the two requires a language or theory to make the correct and desired connections: between designer and producer, between designer and client, and between designer and public. That theory can take very different forms and relate to the design process, the production, sale, use, visual reception and the meaning of what is designed. The fact that the Bauhaus was the first design school in which the embodied knowledge of the workshop was enriched with design theory is a direct result of the ideological decision to connect the designer with his public. In 2009, the then director of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Philipp Oswalt formulated an answer to the question of the current relevance of this design school.
According to him, the Bauhaus is essentially ‘a radical experiment in the breaking down of boundaries, in de-categorization, and in consolidation. No metaphor describes it more aptly than that of space in flux – in an intellectual sense as well. Bauhaus = maximum dynamic, instability, change (...). The Bauhaus was a laboratory for the exploration of a new realm of possibility that took shape with the new knowledge, the new technologies, and the new ways of thinking that were emerging at that time’, the most important goal of which was ‘to improve the quality of everyday life in the present and to make it affordable for all’. This ‘spirit of social responsibility’ was not only professed in theory, but above all given a practical form.
The challenge today lies in the connection between art schools and universities, with the aim of improving the quality of our everyday environment.
Nearly a hundred years after the emergence of the Bauhaus, the radical experiment and ‘de-categorization’ appears to be inconvenient in the merging of an art academy with a crafts school and in forging a new unity between art and technology. The challenge today lies in the connection between art schools and universities, with the aim of improving the quality of our everyday environment. More and more art academies collaborate with universities, mostly initiated by the professorships responsible for designing the theory and research for the HBO (Universities of Applied Sciences). In his 2015-portrait of the artist, Dorst observed that there are various possibilities and even major contradictions in bringing together artists/designers and scientists: ‘Sciences strive to develop objective knowledge, while the decisions that artists and designers take in their projects are of a fundamentally subjective nature. This could be a real obstacle to arriving at a fruitful and more intimate relationship.’
At the recent Drive Festival of CLICKNL, during Dutch Design Week, the research projects were presented that were accepted for the NWO research call Research Through Design. Moderator Dorst stressed that instead of a de-categorization, a dichotomy exists between research and design and all the associated assumptions and image forming, such as the difference between fundamental and applied research, the finding of truths versus the creation of meaning, and knowledge that can be generalised versus knowledge that is only applicable in a unique, context-related situation. This duality is usually reinforced by comparing examples from the so-called ‘hard’ sciences, such as mathematics and physics, with art and design. But anyone who compares a humanities scholar or social scientist with a physicist will also encounter a similar discussion about the objectivity, verifiability, repeatability and application of the knowledge produced.
The categorization of research and determination of who actually performs science have an institutional and political importance. It’s about the awarding of degrees, academic status and access to research funding.
The categorization of research and determination of who actually performs science have an institutional and political importance. It’s about the awarding of degrees, academic status and access to research funding. We can also keep the question simple, as Coen Verbraak does in his unrivalled interview series Kijken in de ziel (Looking in the Soul), in which he surgically dissects various professional groups. Verbraak asks top scientists, such as Robbert Dijkgraaf, Louise Fresco, Frans de Waal and Hans Clevers what science is. The answers were uniform and can be summarised as: a systematic and transparent search by curious professionals for answers to the question of how humans and the world function. This search, however, is not limited to academic scientists. Certain artists and designers also perform systematic and transparent research of the world and thereby encounter new insights and knowledge.
Christopher Frayling, author of the much-cited article ‘Research in Art and Design’ from 1993 – when he was Rector of the Royal College of Art in London – noted that the tension between research and design was situated to a large extent in the prefix ‘re’. Re-search – searching for something again – presupposes a search for something that is already there. Art, craft and design, by contrast, search for the new and not yet existing, according to Frayling.
During my university studies, I came across a constantly searching culture that focused on artefacts and ideas that were already realised. Not only in my study of art history – which has a historical view by definition – but also in other sciences in which I followed optional modules, such as anthropology and philosophy, the future was never the object of study. When Jane Fulton Suri, creative director of the design studio IDEO, looks back on her social sciences study, she describes a similar experience: ‘I recall being frustrated that research and design were considered separate pursuits, developing in different academic spheres. Design was largely future-oriented; research focused on the past and the present.’
In recent years, numerous publications have appeared that seek to make a distinction between artistic, design-based and scientific research.
In these, the term ‘abduction’ is used frequently, as a third kind of logic, along with induction and deduction. While deduction and induction belong to the domain of science, abduction is characteristic of the design world. It is about producing new representations and speculations.
In recent years, numerous publications have appeared that seek to make a distinction between artistic, design-based and scientific research. In these, the term ‘abduction’ is used frequently, as a third kind of logic, along with induction and deduction.
To make the research into the future less abstract, futurologist Stuart Candy defined different forms of future. (fig. 19)
Every vision of the future represents a probable future
; after all, you never know for sure if and when new things can be realised and materialized and will be used. Because we don’t know the future and the possibilities are therefore literally unprecedented, he speaks of many possible ‘futures’. In addition to a probable future, one of the possible futures that Candy identifies is a desired future
. An example of a desired future is the utopia, an ideal world that is, however, unachievable. Candy attaches great importance to artists and designers working on desirable futures, because these in combination with a probable future determine the plausible future
: the future that we – whoever that may be – would like and are able to achieve in all probability.
Candy attaches great importance to artists and designers working on desirable futures, because these in combination with a probable future determine the plausible future: the future that we – whoever that may be – would like and are able to achieve in all probability.
In the first lessons of design history that I have been giving on the product design course since 1997, I made a distinction between critical and speculative historiography. Critical historiography strives for the most correct and detailed reconstruction of the past possible. Historians find this interesting, but designers not so much, if at all. I only gained the full attention of my students when I promised them that after my classes they would be able to predict the future based on a speculative historiography. This – like the natural sciences – attempts to discover the underlying patterns of the historical process by which the future can be predicted. An empty promise, obviously, but I did get my students’ attention.
After my study in Leiden, I concluded that research for designers would be more beneficial at an art college than at a university. The Bauhaus model already taught us that de-categorization can occur when people work on the basis of a collectively formulated social purpose. The engineer and the bricoleur, the scientist and the designer now seem to have found each other again, based on the question of how today’s world – the spaceship earth with its finite amount of irreplaceable fuel and resources – could and must function better in the future.
A spectacular example is the Research Through Design project Symbiotic Machines for Space Exploration
, a collaboration between, among others, biophysicist Raoul Frese and artist Ivan Henriques, teacher at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. Frese is developing organic solar cells based on photosynthesis. Together with Henriques, he is working on autonomous robots that search in water for algae that can be used in the solar cells. Both are currently examining whether these robots can be further developed into machines that can work independently to build the first settlements on Mars. (fig. 20)
But our own projects at the Centre of Expertise Future Makers also show that designers and scientists, in a concerted effort for a more sustainable and circular society, are conducting valuable research into new materials and applications for hemp, mycelium and algae in textile and carpet production. (fig. 21 - 22)
I • identity and environment
My PhD research taught me something else. During my search of the archives of the Dutch art academies, I got to see many design assignments and the results thereof. The majority related to objects for, and the arrangement of, the domestic landscape. The aforementioned textbooks of The Artistic Crafts Series also show the material culture of the everyday living environment as instructive examples: furniture, lighting, tableware, cutlery, clothing, footwear, jewellery, fashion accessories and book and interior design. More complex objects, such as electrical equipment, machinery or vehicles are exceptions. This can be explained, in part, by the history of the Dutch art academies, almost all of which emerged from the nineteenth-century crafts schools, with a tradition that left little room for industrial mass production, electrical equipment or cars, trains and aeroplanes. Ethical motives played no small role in this: the noble handicraft was regarded as more important than industrial design. Art and crafts education has always had a close relationship with the décor and furnishings of the private home environment, with the utensils it contains and with clothing, because these represent the world from which people largely derive their identity.
Art and crafts education has always had a close relationship with the décor and furnishings of the private home environment, with the utensils it contains and with clothing, because these represent the world from which people largely derive their identity.
In the mid-seventies, the then director of the AIVE, Wim Gilles, surveyed the products that designers were engaged with (fig. 23)
. Based on the personal bond that people have with a product, and the influence of its outward appearance on how the user values it, he distinguished 'ich ferne
' and ‘ich nahe
’ products. Products that are far from the ‘I’ are, for example, professional machines, public transportation and engineering structures. Products that are close to the ‘I’ include fashion items, such as clothing and shoes, furniture and interior furnishings. The AIVE, which positioned itself as the first school for industrial design in Europe, wanted to appropriate the whole area from ‘ich ferne
’ to ‘ich nahe
’ products. According to Gilles, the design courses at the Dutch art academies – partly based on their historic roots in crafts education – could then engage in the design of products with which people have a strong personal bond and a high appreciation of the aesthetic value.
The professorship product design & interior architecture should not, in my opinion, ignore these roots. It concerns a tradition with knowledge and experience in the design of the home environment that is not, or hardly available outside of art education. The professorship can build upon this and develop an art-based research for product design and interior architecture within the unique biotope of ArtEZ. The fact that ArtEZ is the only institute in the Netherlands that has courses and professorships in the field of interior architecture, fashion and product design and furthermore has the expertise of, for instance, interaction designers, choreographers and composers at its disposal, makes this institute a unique research environment.
Art Research Conference, ArtEZ University of the Arts, 18 & 19 November 2016
The fact that ArtEZ is the only institute in the Netherlands that has courses and professorships in the field of interior architecture, fashion and product design and furthermore has the expertise of, for instance, interaction designers, choreographers and composers at its disposal, makes this institute a unique research environment.
I we do think •
The first discussions about the new professorship took place under the working title ‘Exploring the New Domestic Landscape’. The title ‘Eǀ ǀscape’ may be regarded as an abbreviation thereof, although – as you will see – its meaning is much broader. The title refers to the 1972-exhibition Italy. The New Domestic Landscape
at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, one of the most talked-about design exhibitions ever staged (fig. 24)
. Several Italian designers and architects, including Sottsass, presented their radical visions of the domestic landscape of the future in the form of physical installations. Unencumbered by demands and requirements from the industry, they showed that changing lifestyles, current notions of private and public spaces and new materials and production methods required a different living environment. Design was no longer about the design of a beautiful collection of utensils for the consumer market, but about researching the existential problems and possibilities of the domestic space. In the free space that curator Emilio Ambasz offered designers, Sottsass could again be the designer he was as a little boy: a handyman making objects in a meaningful community, instead of an engineer of office chairs, typewriters and calculators in the name of a multinational for an anonymous public.
Thus, you could also read
as escape: a place to escape from everything that hinders the freedom to research.
A research space requires a certain freedom, a freedom such as I described previously for the domestic and communal space. Thus, you could also read Eǀ ǀscape as escape: a place to escape from everything that hinders the freedom to research. But you will understand that good research cannot be done without the input from the civil space and the market space. Theory and research actually develop in the tension between the freedom to ask questions and to give (possible) answers to social challenges. It is my belief that students, teachers and designers benefit from a confrontation between their personal motives and the actual world. Not as dependent or distanced designers, but as professionals who are able to substantiate what, why and for whom they bring something new into the world. Gielen regards the increasing pressure from the market space on the communal space of art education as a direct threat to the unstructured freedom, the possibility to fail, and the experimental processes that do not lead directly to marketable products. But for the research of professorships, this connection with the world can also be an improvement: social and economic challenges feed and inspire the necessary discourse and challenge the imagination of the designers.
You may also read the E as the E of an investigation into the essentials of the human living and working landscape.
You may also read the E as the E of an investigation into the essentials of the human living and working landscape. At the 2014-Architecture Biennale in Venice, Rem Koolhaas presented an investigation into the fundamentals: the essential elements that make up our architecture, such as the wall, façade, window, ceiling, door, fireplace, not to mention the toilet (fig. 25)
. Essentials that the human body constantly has to relate to. Elements that will always be part of our home environment, but that will also always have to be reinvented under the influence of economic, cultural and technological change.
At the other end of the spectrum, the E stands for an electronic and digital landscape. Electronics have been forcing their way into our houses for some time already
At the other end of the spectrum, the E stands for an electronic and digital landscape. Electronics have been forcing their way into our houses for some time already (fig. 26)
. Not only in the products, but also in the words we use to describe new developments. Thus the word ‘domotics’ – a topical field of research – is a contraction of domus
(home) and electronics.
Eǀ ǀscape could also have been called Iǀ ǀscape: electronics give us interactive environments, interfaces and the Internet of Things. Our environment is becoming ever smarter. Technological utopians predict a smart future in which humankind is provided with all the comforts. Comfort relates not only to practical work, but also to our wellbeing as homo semioticus
. What are the aesthetic and ethical consequences of a world that is digitising at a frantic pace? A well-known advertisement for a telecom provider uses the slogan: ‘Not because you have to, because you can’. Technologically we can do an incredible amount, but do we want to? Many scientific research programmes focus on questions concerning technological developments: smart culture, smart industry, smart cities. A designer who also thinks about an ethic of working and living might sooner ask the question: what do we do, when we can do all this?
On the basis of what I have outlined so far, I hope it is clear that the professorship represents a type of research that stems from the tradition of art education and is largely based on the embodied knowledge of the crafts practice, on the abductive and speculative thinking of designers and on their critical and ethically motivated questions. A form of design research into products and spaces from which people derive their identity, which constantly shifts between the personal motivations of individual designers and the questions that a society in transition poses them. Not to provide an alternative to everything that science and technology already make possible, but to enrich this from an artistic design perspective.
On the basis of what I have outlined so far, I hope it is clear that the professorship represents a type of research that stems from the tradition of art education and is largely based on the embodied knowledge of the crafts practice, on the abductive and speculative thinking of designers and on their critical and ethically motivated questions.
The precise label that this research will acquire is less interesting to me. In the discussion about a form of art-based research, frequent references are made to the three-way division described by Frayling in 1993: research into
art and design.
For research into art and design, the artefacts are studied from the existing scientific perspectives: historical, technological, ethical, sociological or political. This is the terrain of the classical, university research into the effect and significance of existing phenomena. Research that will always remain important for designers, but is not so directly useful for an investigation in which designing and making are central.
art and design is more useful for this. Research for art and design includes all forms of study that an artist or designer conducts to realise his idea. That may range from materials research to the collection of visual material as inspiration for the eventual work. Frayling calls it research with a small ‘r’, because its meaning does not go beyond its usefulness for an individual and once-only creative process. For professorships in art education, the research through
art and design is particularly interesting. This concerns, for example, research into new materials or material applications for the development of more sustainable value chains of products and services. Or action research where design processes are carefully documented for the development of more broadly applicable design methodologies or strategies. This also includes materialized future models in the form of prototypes and visual statements that are tested in specific scientific or public contexts and so-called cultural probs. Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies and a great many methods can be used for this type of research. The TU Delft already has more than a hundred of these on record, from interviews and mind mapping to prototyping and role playing.
Constructive Design Researchers further refine Frayling’s concept by stating that this research through art and design can only be done well if something is actually constructed in the form of a product, a system, a space or medium. A method with which art education has long been familiar – without often directly acknowledging it as research. At the TU Eindhoven, constructive design research is promoted by professor of industrial design Caroline Hummels as a form of phenomenological research that focuses on the physical experience of making and using products. It is no coincidence that this former student of the Arnhem Art Academy introduces this method into the highly technologically-oriented environment of the TU/e.
The professorship Eǀ ǀscape will focus on three lines of research in the coming years. The first is called ‘Speculative Spaces’. Speculative or critical design is a term that was coined by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby in the mid-nineties. Critical design aims to offer an alternative to the affirmative design that developed in the twentieth century. Among other things, affirmative design is problem solving, production-oriented, of service to the industry and innovative. It focuses on the consumer and functions in the context of how the world is today. Critical design, on the other hand, is problem seeking, discussion-oriented, of service to society and provocative. It focuses on the citizen and functions in the context of how the world could be. (fig. 27)
. Critical design is open and prefers to connect with hopes and dreams rather than plans and destinations. But because it is a form of constructive design research, the fleeting nature of dreams and hope is anchored in the world, in earthly material, and linked to the human body. In Speculative Everything
, Dunne and Raby describe research strategies that are consistent with an abductive way of thinking and often derived from and related to the arts.
This involves strategies with which fictional worlds can be created by means of illustrations, photography, film and three-dimensional objects (fig. 28 - 31)
. The working method of speculative designers is more exploratory than scientific. Design results are more important than the process that precedes them. With the results, they challenge science. They function as discussion items and offer new perspectives on the wicked problems of our society. Speculative designers create new visions of desirable or undesirable futures themselves, or in collaboration with experts from the arts and science. They are materialized thought experiments, which extrapolate current events into a still unknown future, or conversely make the as yet unthinkable something that can be thought and experienced.
Critical design builds upon the radical design of the nineteen sixties and seventies. Ettore Sottsass, one of the founding fathers of radical design, wrote at the time: ‘Design is (…) a way of discussing life. It is a way of discussing society, politics, eroticism, food and even design. At the end, it is a way of building up a possible figurative utopia or metaphor about life.’
The working method of speculative designers is more exploratory than scientific. Design results are more important than the process that precedes them. With the results, they challenge science. They function as discussion items and offer new perspectives on the wicked problems of our society.
Critical design is strongly driven by the I: the personal motivations of the designer-artist and his ideas about the world are central. But his work only becomes meaningful in the WE: the social debate that he seeks by showing the work in the public space – the civil space – of galleries, museums and internet, among others, what Constructive Design Researchers call the ‘showroom’: the space in which design, art and science meet and become public.
The aim of the professorship is to further examine – scientifically – this type of research through the ‘showroom’, to make it explicit and demonstrate its social value. An important question is whether and how the tradition of critical and speculative design contributes to the major innovations in lifestyles and living forms for a meaningful, sustainable and inclusive society.
Unlike in the ‘Speculative Spaces’, here researchers explicitly seek to connect with relevant stakeholders in the value chain: from raw-material suppliers and producers to retailers, end-users and recyclers.
The professorship’s second line of research is ‘Smart Living’. Unlike in the ‘Speculative Spaces’, here researchers explicitly seek to connect with relevant stakeholders in the value chain: from raw-material suppliers and producers to retailers, end-users and recyclers. The most important research space here is the ‘Field’ – the market space of the research, where the materialized concepts can be tested in their intended context. The basis of this is Future Makers: the Centre of Expertise established by ArtEZ in 2016, which, in collaboration with businesses, governments and research institutes, engages in the development and application of sustainable materials and production technology in the field of textiles, fashion and interior design. The designer is a reflective practitioner, who is not in a classical relationship with the client, a relationship in which he unilaterally shares his knowledge. On the contrary: here the experiences of customers, clients, consumers or citizens is seen as an important and unique source of knowledge for the professional, which he can continue to reflect upon and anticipate throughout the design process. So interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary cooperation means not only that there is a connection between the various academic and/or artistic knowledge domains. The knowledge and experience of the public are also involved in the design process.
So interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary cooperation means not only that there is a connection between the various academic and/or artistic knowledge domains. The knowledge and experience of the public are also involved in the design process.
The design process is therefore not dominated by the I, but by the WE. That requires a common language which is formed in the DO: on the basis of (in)tangible, physically perceptible interventions in the form of sketches, models and prototypes or through virtual and augmented reality, a language is created that places the sensory experience central.
The critical, ethical attitude of the designer also plays a large role in the ‘Field’. Social and cultural interests prevail over immediately demonstrable economic values. ‘Above all’, as the advocates of Constructive Design Research
write, ‘[designers] are trained to imagine problems and opportunities to see whether something is necessary or not. It is just this imaginative step that is presented in discussions on innovation in industry.’
Designers will tackle the question of whether ‘smart’ serves purely economic interests, or also contributes to a sustainable, inclusive and humane society. How, through advanced technology, can users gain more influence over specific, individual, practical and symbolic living requirements? What is now the significance of artisanal knowledge and learning by doing in the smart industry? Is there still room for the bricoleur in an ever smarter living environment? There has long been a tendency for consumers to take the initiative and make themselves responsible for their own living environment. This ranges from small-scale local food production and cultivation (farm-to-table movement) to new digital production possibilities with (DIY) 3D printers (fig. 32)
. In this development, designers are less the providers of ready-made products, and mainly the facilitators of production processes. With both the ‘old’ knowledge of artisanal production and new technology, the domestic landscape is increasingly becoming a private, local production environment. Not only because the house itself is (again) a place of production, but also because people (can) exert ever more influence on the production processes of the industry from their own home. The professorship aims to explore the possibilities of the home as a workplace, both through design research and a cultural- and design-historical study of home production. An important question is what the role of the professionally trained designer can be in this.
Exploring the Communal Space
The last line of research is called ‘Exploring the Communal Space’. Now, the teaching space is itself the subject of study: a free space in which the professorship together with the courses in product design and interior architecture, among others, will examine where interesting connections can be made between education and research and between the communal space on the one hand and the market space and civil space on the other. Ultimately this revolves around the question of what a school that intends to train the professional designer-researcher should look like.
Ultimately this revolves around the question of what a school that intends to train the professional designer-researcher should look like.
In this context, I would like to share with you the image that philosopher Vilém Flusser describes in his essay ‘The Factory’ about the school of the future.
Flusser contends that whoever wants to learn about the past, present and future has to study the ‘factory’: a word he uses for the production workshops in a particular culture. The science, politics, art and religion of a society are all contained in the organisation of these human production workshops. So whoever wants to know the future must ask how the factory of the future functions. Based on essential changes in the location and organisation of the factory, Flusser identifies four historical periods, namely: those in which people make things with their hands, tools, machines and robots respectively. (fig. 33)
He defines ‘making’ as an activity whereby available materials are converted into something that benefits humankind. For that making, tools, machines and robots are extensions of the hands. A factory is the geographic location where the available material is transformed with these tools. But it is also the place where the three industrial revolutions occurred which formed the new types of human: the hand-man, the tool-man, the machine-man and the robot-man. In the process that Flusser outlines, the human changes more and more from a natural to an artificial being, whereby the person to person transfer of experience is increasingly replaced by acquired, descriptive knowledge. In this process, the relationship between humans and technology and the importance of the location also change. The hand-man is nomadic, his factory can be anywhere as natural production has no fixed location. Like the hand-man, the tool-man – the working man – is still the constant factor in the production process: the tool is replaced when it is worn or broken. The factory is bound to a location: namely where the best raw-materials can be found for making the tools. With the machine-man, a radical shift occurs: the owner of the machine and the machine itself are now the constant factor. The sick or worn-out human – the labouring man – is replaced. The factories are concentrated where the knowledge, expertise and resources are available to make the machines. (fig. 34)
But what about the robot-man?
According to Flusser, we have to examine the differences between the tool, the machine and the robot. He calls a tool ‘empirical’: it originates from the experience of human creativity. A machine is mechanical and is built on the basis of scientific principles from mathematics, physics and chemistry. Robots are neurophysiological and biological and are thus closer to the natural state of the hand-man. But there is a fundamental difference: the robot no longer requires a direct relationship with humans and can function anywhere in a digitally connected world. The factory of the robot-man can be located anywhere. Just as the factory of the hand-man was nomadic, the factory of the robot-man has become that again. You might ask yourself what all this means for education.
Again history creates its own mirror image, in which the craftsman-designer that was the foundation for the Bauhaus – the biggest innovation in art education since the arrival of the first art academy in Italy, according to Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) – emancipates himself as a critical, scientific designer-researcher.
You learn to use a tool through experience: learning by doing. A machine requires theoretical training: a basic training to learn how to operate a machine, a secondary education to learn how to repair and maintain a machine, and higher education to learn how to build new machines. Robots, however, require an abstract way of learning: how do you connect people to the network of factories that are called robots? And then Flusser writes: ‘This provides a hint as to what factories of the future will look like: like schools in fact. (...) Thus in case of the factory of the future, we will have to think more in terms of scientific laboratories, art academies and libraries and collections of recordings than in terms of present-day factories.’ Whereas the Bauhaus advocated the school as a factory from the machine age, Flusser paints us a picture of a robot age in which the factory is a school. Again history creates its own mirror image, in which the craftsman-designer that was the foundation for the Bauhaus – the biggest innovation in art education since the arrival of the first art academy in Italy, according to Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) – emancipates himself as a critical, scientific designer-researcher. Or as Flusser says: ‘And we shall have to look upon the robot-man of the future more as an academic than as an artisan, worker or engineer.’ Flusser concludes by saying that his factory as a school seems like a contradiction in terms. The classical image of the factory – in which humans have to give up their freedom – is at odds with the school as a sanctuary for contemplation and study. But this classic contradiction – created by romantics as a response to the culture of the machine-man – disappears when machines become robots and the factory an applied school. (fig. 35)
Flusser: ‘Such factory-schools and school-factories are coming into existence everywhere’. I hope that the professorship Eǀ ǀscape can contribute to the creation of these design factories for the robot-man, where not just the artist, but everyone is once again a worker instead of a labourer.
© Jeroen van den Eijnde • Eǀ ǀscape
Arnhem, 19 November 2016
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