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robertogreco : variability   4

Spinoza in a T-Shirt – The New Inquiry
"This is the social and ethical function of design standardization: to assign and put bodies in their “proper” place. Standardized design creates violent relations between bodies and environments. The intensity of violence the standard body brings to bear on an individual’s body is measured in that body’s difference and distance from the standard. A chair that is too high, a beam too low, a corridor too narrow acts on the body forcefully and with a force that is unevenly distributed. Bodies that are farther from the standard body bear the weight of these forces more heavily than those that are closer to the arbitrary standard. But to resolve this design problem does not mean that we need a more-inclusive approach to design. The very idea of inclusion, of opening up and expanding the conceptual parameters of human bodies, depends for its logic and operation on the existence of parameters in the first place. In other words, a more inclusive approach to design remains fundamentally exclusive in its logic.

If Spinoza’s critical question points us toward an understanding of what standardized design does wrong, it also indicates how to get it right. The works of fashion designer Rei Kawakubo and of the artists-architects Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins are the result of materialist practices that reflect the Spinozist principle of not knowing what a body is. Their approach to design is based not so much on what the designers claim to know about the body, but instead on what they ignore. Their approaches refuse predetermined conceptualizations of what a body is and what a body can do. For instance, Kawakubo’s “bumpy” dresses (from the highly celebrated “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” Comme Des Garcons Spring/Summer 1997 collection) form a cloth+body assemblage that challenges preconceived ideas of the body and of beauty. At a larger scale, Arakawa and Gins’ Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo and Yoro Park in Gifu prefecture deny any predetermined category of the body in favor of a profound ignorance of what makes a body a body at all.

These designs can have profound sociopolitical effects. Momoyo Homma (the director of the architects’ Tokyo office) relates how her mother, who normally cannot walk without her cane, had no problems navigating the bumpy floor of the Mitaka Lofts. Homma’s mother’s experience does not mean that the Mitaka Lofts are a miraculous instrument that would resuscitate a septuagenarian’s ability to walk without a cane. It reveals that her body only needs a cane in environments designed for bodies that differ substantially from hers.

The cane, itself a designed object, is a clear marker of the differential (often antagonistic) relations that design produces between bodies and spaces/places, and between non-standard and standard bodies. As a prosthesis, the cane’s purpose is to “correct” the non-standard body so that its functions reflect as closely as possible a fidelity with the “normal” body. Arakawa and Gins’ architecture offers an environment where the non-standard body does not need a “corrective,” since the environment’s design is not structured around what they think a body is.

Spinoza’s question—what can a body do?—insists that we set aside preconceived and normative notions of what a body is. Arakawa and Gins’ architecture suggests a slight but significant revision: Rather than conceptualizing bodies from the position of not knowing what they are, we should begin from the position that we don’t know what bodies are not. The double-negative allows a crucial correction to the Spinozist account of the body.

Spinoza’s question delays conceptualizations of the body, but it still doesn’t do away with normative formulations of the body. Affirming an ignorance of something presupposes that what is ignored could be actually known. “We don’t know what a body is” implicitly suggests that a holistic knowledge of what a body is actually exists—we just don’t presume to know it (yet).

The position of “not presuming” is too close to the liberal stance of having tolerance for difference—a position of liberal multiculturalism we find suspicious. The problem with liberal tolerance is that it already assumes and takes up a position of power. The designer is in the privileged position of being tolerant of another, and of designating who is deserving of tolerance. Whether the presumption is to know or not know the body, it is either way an act of the designer’s agency since knowing/unknowing the body is realized exclusively in the design of the garment, room, chair, table, etc. The power of the designer remains intact either way.

Alternatively, to not know what a body isn’t does more than suspend or delay normalizing conceptualizations of the body. It refuses such total claims of body knowledge at all. Just as the double-negative construction becomes affirmative, not knowing what a body isn’t affirms all bodies by doing away with the ideal of the normative body altogether. To not know what a body isn’t means that the idea of the body is infinitely open, rather than just momentarily open. To not know what a body isn’t means that all bodies are equally valid modes and forms of embodiment. Nothing is “not a body” and so everything is a body. This is not a philosophical issue but a political problem. What is a body? What is a human body? These are philosophical treatises that do not address our concern with how built environments empower some bodies and disempower others according to a set of “universal” design presumptions and methods.

By shifting our focus from what a body is to what a body can do, we can begin to explore the political—sometimes violent—relations of bodies, objects, and environments that are produced and maintained through standard design practices and knowledge. How might a collaborative relation of body and environment create the potential for a more non-hierarchical architecture? How might it build one that frees all bodies from the abstract concept of a “normal” body?

As impressive and seductive as the designers named above are, they are not politically egalitarian even though their designs may be aesthetically radical. Kawakubo, Gins, and Arakawa’s built environments are among a highly rarified class of design, out of reach to all but a select few inhabitants/consumers. Although their design approaches are unconventional, they don’t disrupt the hierarchical relations that structure dominant paradigms of design. In fact, their work is greatly celebrated in establishment fashion and architecture design circles.

A design process and philosophy that doesn’t know what a body isn’t can be found in a decidedly more mundane built environment. The jersey knit cotton T-shirt—a product found across the entire price point spectrum—is accessible and inhabitable by a great number of people. Jersey knit cotton is one of the cheaper fabrics, pliable to a broad range of bodies. Jersey knit cotton T-shirts really don’t know what a body isn’t—to this T-shirt, all bodies are T-shirt-able, all bodies can inhabit the space of a T-shirt, though how they inhabit it will be largely determined by the individual body. How the t-shirt pulls or hangs loose (and by how much) will certainly vary across bodies and across time. Indeed, the T-shirt’s stretchy jersey knit cotton materializes precisely this principle of contingency.

Julie Wilkins’ designs are aimed at “extending the grammar of the T-shirt.” Stretching the T-shirt to new proportions, her Future Classics Dress collections (made entirely of jersey knit fabrics, though not necessarily knit from cotton) are even more adaptable and modifiable than the classic T-shirt, which is somewhat limited by its fundamental T shape. (“Somewhat limited,” because its T shape has not precluded the vast number and variety of bodies that do not conform to the T-shape from wearing T-shirts.) Wilkins’ design approach is unlike those that make up traditional tables, chairs, windows, and clothing that are designed and fabricated around standard body dimensions. Wilkins’ designs create built environments that are pliant, dynamic, modular, and mobile.

Wilkins’ Future Classics Dress designs are modifiable by and adaptable to an unspecified range of bodies; they are conditional architectures. As demonstrated on their website, one garment can be worn in many ways, on many bodies. How users inhabit the clothes depends on them as much as on the designer. Choosing how to wear a Future Classics garment can be an involved process. While the Future Classics Dress collections don’t give individuals total autonomy, they allow bodies more freedom than we’ve seen before."



"The idealized relationship of bodies and designed grounds is a predictive geometric one. It is widely accepted that a surface directly perpendicular to the body provides the best environment for bodies to function. As a result, the surfaces of designed grounds are overwhelmingly flat, and non-flat floors are marked as problems to be fixed. Yet even a cursory glance at any playground and its many and differently uneven grounds—“terrains” is a better word—trouble this taken-for-granted logic.

Children tend to have a particularly acute relation to their physical environment. Their small and unpracticed bodies almost never fit the overwhelmingly hard, flat surfaces of mainstream environments. In this way, all young children can be understood as having non-standard bodies. Their “unfitness” is measured in relation to normatively designed built environments. The image of any young child climbing a set of stairs illustrates the kind of unfitness we mean. By contrast, the playground’s dense rubbery foam floors, its flexible pathways (e.g, chain-linked bridges), and its integration of Parent and Virilio’s Oblique Function of various slopes and elevations, are surfaces that children’s bodies navigate capably, oftentimes with a level of ease that escapes adults… [more]
spinoza  design  arakawa  madelinegins  body  bodies  normal  normalization  standardization  variation  architecture  fashion  politics  inclusion  tolerance  inclusivity  adaptability  léopoldlambert  minh-hatpham  henrydreyfuss  reikawakubo  juliewilkins  paulvirilio  claudeparent  theobliquefunction  futureclassicsdress  modification  stretch  give  glvo  uniformproject  audiencesofone  philosophy  standards  canon  canes  ability  abilities  disability  variability  ablerism  ethics  textiles  personaluniforms  fabrics  clothing  clothes  inlcusivity  disabilities 
july 2015 by robertogreco
What Screens Want by Frank Chimero
"We need to work as a community to develop a language of transformation so we can talk to one another. And we probably need to steal these words from places like animation, theater, puppetry, dance, and choreography.

Words matter. They are abstractions, too—an interface to thought and understanding by communication. The words we use mold our perception of our work and the world around us. They become a frame, just like the interfaces we design."



"When I realized that, a little light went off in my head: a map’s biases do service to one need, but distort everything else. Meaning, they misinform and confuse those with different needs.

That’s how I feel about the web these days. We have a map, but it’s not for me. So I am distanced. It feels like things are distorted. I am consistently confused.

See, we have our own abstractions on the web, and they are bigger than the user interfaces of the websites and apps we build. They are the abstractions we use to define the web. The commercial web. The things that have sprung up in the last decade, but gained considerable speed in the past five years.

It’s the business structures and funding models we use to create digital businesses. It’s the pressure to scale, simply because it’s easy to copy bits. It’s the relationships between the people who make the stuff, and the people who use that stuff, and the consistent abandonment of users by entrepreneurs.

It’s the churning and the burning, flipping companies, nickel and diming users with in-app purchases, data lock-in, and designing with dark patterns so that users accidentally do actions against their own self-interest.

Listen: I’m at the end of a 4-month sabbatical, and I worry about this stuff, because the further I get from everything, the more it begins to look toxic. These pernicious elements are the primary map we have of the web right now.

We used to have a map of a frontier that could be anything. The web isn’t young anymore, though. It’s settled. It’s been prospected and picked through. Increasingly, it feels like we decided to pave the wilderness, turn it into a suburb, and build a mall. And I hate this map of the web, because it only describes a fraction of what it is and what’s possible. We’ve taken an opportunity for connection and distorted it to commodify attention. That’s one of the sleaziest things you can do.

So what is the answer? I found this quote by Ted Nelson, the man who invented hypertext. He’s one of the original rebel technologists, so he has a lot of things to say about our current situation. Nelson:
The world is not yet finished, but everyone is behaving as if everything was known. This is not true. In fact, the computer world as we know it is based upon one tradition that has been waddling along for the last fifty years, growing in size and ungainliness, and is essentially defining the way we do everything. My view is that today’s computer world is based on techie misunderstandings of human thought and human life. And the imposition of inappropriate structures throughout the computer is the imposition of inappropriate structures on the things we want to do in the human world.



We can produce a vision of the web that isn’t based on:

consolidation
privatization
power
hierarchies
surveillance

We can make a new map. Or maybe reclaim a map we misplaced a long time ago. One built on:

extensibility
openness
communication
community
wildness

We can use the efficiency and power of interfaces to help people do what they already wish more quickly or enjoyably, and we can build up business structures so that it’s okay for people to put down technology and get on with their life once their job is done. We can rearrange how we think about the tools we build, so that someone putting down your tool doesn’t disprove its utility, but validates its usefulness.



Let me leave you with this: the point of my writing was to ask what screens want. I think that’s a great question, but it is a secondary concern. What screens want needs to match up with what we want.

People believe there’s an essence to the computer, that there’s something true and real and a correct way to do things. But—there is no right way. We get to choose how to aim the technology we build. At least for now, because increasingly, technology feels like something that happens to you instead of something you use. We need to figure out how to stop that, for all of our sakes, before we’re locked in, on rails, and headed toward who knows what.

One of the reasons that I’m so fascinated by screens is because their story is our story. First there was darkness, and then there was light. And then we figured out how to make that light dance. Both stories are about transformations, about change. Screens have flux, and so do we."
frankchimero  2013  screens  flux  build2013  plasticity  jamesburke  plastic  skeoumorphs  containers  materials  change  transitions  perception  flatdesign  windowsphonemetro  ios7  software  replacement  shape  affordances  grain  design  paper  print  eadwardmuybridge  movement  motion  animation  customization  responsivewebdesign  responsiveness  variability  mutability  mutations  ux  interactiondesign  interfaces  language  ethanmarcotte  maps  mapping  representation  cartography  embodiedmeaning  respresentation  tednelson  computersareforpeople  softwareisforpeople  unfinished  responsivedesign 
november 2013 by robertogreco
Nomic - Wikipedia
"Nomic is a game created in 1982 by philosopher Peter Suber in which the rules of the game include mechanisms for the players to change those rules, usually beginning through a system of democratic voting.[1]

"Nomic is a game in which changing the rules is a move. In that respect it differs from almost every other game. The primary activity of Nomic is proposing changes in the rules, debating the wisdom of changing them in that way, voting on the changes, deciding what can and cannot be done afterwards, and doing it. Even this core of the game, of course, can be changed."

—Peter Suber, the creator of Nomic, The Paradox of Self-Amendment, Appendix 3, p. 362.

Nomic actually refers to a large number of games based on the initial ruleset laid out by Peter Suber in his book The Paradox of Self-Amendment."
education  politics  games  change  community  petersuber  play  democracy  self-amendment  logic  philosophy  lawyering  variability  nomic 
june 2011 by robertogreco
Amazon Kindle: William Farren shared from Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
"I have a couple of concerns about our school system: 1) The current system is founded on a series of expectations that certain learning goals should be achieved by a certain age. Yet there is no reason to suspect that the brain pays attention to those expectations. Students of the same age show a great deal of intellectual variability. 2) These differences can profoundly influence classroom performance. This has been tested. For example, about io percent of students do..."
johnmedina  education  learning  schools  curriculum  benchmarks  tcsnmy  teaching  pedagogy  development  intellect  variation  variability  schooling  unschooling  deschooling  lcproject 
july 2010 by robertogreco

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