Design Beyond Objects. Affordances for the 21st Century

One of the topics that currently dominates public information is the complexity of technology (in particular the one that learns) and the human capability to keep track of it. Since the origin of the word, technology has been developed in symbiosis with the human species. This is for the capacity to develop and create something capable of fulfilling a particular human need.  Nonetheless such relations is increasingly changing; society is growing fear of what technology can “think” and “do” without any advise from any human peer.  This is not a minor problem for the effects it channels; technological developments are hitting the very basic structure upon which society has been layered upon so far, which is the skills people can offer, learn and share to their communities.

In this complex relationship there is design, which role up to this point has been mediating the dynamics between human and technology through shapes and materials that facilitate/direct interaction and communication. Design is then the process of formal, sensorial and operational actions that mediate human decision-making with objects that deliver a particular technology. In the current scenario, where technology takes on independence from its users, this straightforward relationship has being broken. Objects “shell” tech of which the public has little idea; this tech designs invisible infrastructure that connects and shares information to other peers. Technology is no longer something that takes place locally, it is a networked structure of which objects are the gateways. Whether the public can still appreciate materiality and forms, there is little understanding of the purpose the object has been designed for that keeps people engaged. A kettle is not simply a kettle as well as a hover is not only a hover. As many others their functionality has been “augmented” of parameters that are little known to the majority of people. Even though these objects still perform familiar functions, like boiling water, they don’t provide the public of any knowledge regarding the technology they are designed for.

It then comes the question of what we are designing and what is design in the age of responsive technology. Can we still apply the parameters we used in the past or do we need to create new parameters that manage the relationship people have with today’s technology? What if user-centred design is something that no longer revolves around the object and the use people have of it, but thinks “at a top level” to help people help themselves. This piece of design is supposed to communicate that it is safe to trade cryptocurrency. Is it “safe” delivered through the materiality (steel like)? Does it communicate well what cryptocurrency is? What is the real safety that needs to be communicated? Is, perhaps, the public’s awareness of cryptocurrency? How can this object help people understand what they are facing when logging in? These are some of the questions I believe we should start to address to understand how design can support a new symbiotic relationship between human and technology. The question can be addressed through formal language, which directly engages people to develop a clear understanding of the object’s capabilities. Can design help people dialogue with complex systems to raise awareness and responsibility?

How that communication happens in terms of design, it is a matter research. An investigation in this area can perhaps include parameters designers and people are familiar with to develop a strategy that fosters a better understanding of the key infrastructure that runs our decisions and behaviours. The process of engaging materials, memories and the sensorial relationships people have with objects can be both strategy and form, as both mediate and deliver complexity through communication/experience. Design can foster a code of ethics; this is not for designers but for the extended community that use design.

Moving away from the cloud, design can open a new chapter where the cloud is back to planet Earth and people are more aware of the roles and personal responsibilities they have/play in a society structured upon increasingly complex systems.

 

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