Design as the extention of capability

A friend once said, ‘the purpose of design is to extend our capabilities… not replace or invent new ones.’ Such is the hammer, or the bow and arrow. Does this make the domestication of a horse ‘by design’ also?

Say this was the case, and if your design either did not directly ‘extend’ a function of man (or she-man), the function already had been extended to satisfy necessity by another design, extended the function past necessity or was either too wasteful or too automated, how would you approach design and what do you think the world of products and product design would look like?

For example, leaf blowers are something which extends the capabilities of a function way too far. It tries to replace something that already necessitates the extended functionality (i.e. the broom), is obviously very wasteful and is automated to the point where any domestic user looks like a piece of living irony.

If this topic should go in another thread can a mod put it there?

Is your internet connection extending your capabilities too far :wink:

Design is about giving people options. Choice is freedom. If I want to use a leaf blower, and you want to use a rake, design has made both of those things possible. People get to decide, and if enough people choose both, both get produced.

I never said that I didn’t like my capabilities extended beyond belief. In fact, how do we know if we aren’t supposed to extend them this far… beyond the point of even physical recognition of our former beings?

But in saying that, it all still seems kind of trivial, and we can already see the effects of this ‘freedom’ on the ecosystem and economy. Are we really free, or are we just walking deeper into the prison? Remember, nothing comes without a cost.

I like the idea of design as an extension of capability. It’s interesting how much stuff we get that maybe we don’t need or maybe does too much for us. My grandpa was doing okay until he bought a power chair, and then his muscles totally atrophied and he went downhill. This made me think about how ‘helpful’ or ‘easy’ tasks should really be. Should every task in our lives be so easy that we barely move or exert any brain power?

On the other hand, I think sometimes designers are too eager to try to compel behavior through design, and this is unhealthy. We need to respect people’s right to choose. I wouldn’t buy a leaf blower, but I don’t hold it against people who do.

Design is a powerful tool, but external objects usually deal only with symptoms of fundamental internal problems within individuals and society.

I apologize for this long reply, it turned into a ramble, but that’s ok, you won’t read it all, firstly your time is too precious, because you’re probably reading this when you should be working and secondly because advertising has shortened your attention span to the point that within a page you’ll get bored and (probably) start searching for porn again.

Design is a powerful tool, but external objects usually deal only with symptoms of fundamental internal problems within individuals and society.

Cameron

Dude, I own and use a vacuum cleaner, but not because I have a fundamental internal problem, (or because society told me I have to own one), because I could choose to have wooden or stone floors, but I like warmth and a clean carpet! I also cut my food with a knife, but not because I have a fundamental internal problem, (or because society dictated how I should behave) its because I’m tired of eating with my hands on the floor, it messes up my carpet :wink:

The real problem is that humans are inherently lazy and our continual strive is to make things easier so that we do less. Imagine telling a team of builders that they were going to have to make something on the scale of the pyramids only using human power (the trade union would have a field day – tea breaks would go up 1000%). Once something has been invented that makes life easier, there is no going back, progress?!?.

It’s too hard a sell, I’ve invented this thing that allows you to do something in half the time with half the effort for half the price, or you could go back to using the thing that takes twice as long and makes you sweat.

Product Tanks law – every time there’s an advancement in technology, someone will try and use it as an unnecessary Usp to sell a product. Buy Product X now with blue LED or this pen made in carbon fibre for extra lightness or this re-chargeable, motorized dish brush.

Of course there’s a counter argument. I think a motorized scrubbing brush (it’s out there, I’ve seen it) sums up everything wrong with the world. Use a bit of elbow grease! However, If I was disabled with limited dexterity, this device would allow me to take better care of myself/not rely on someone to do my dishes/load and empty the dishwasher. Empowering me, by giving me greater freedom. You could argue that if that was the case, only disabled people should use the product and the ‘able’ population should use a bit of elbow power, thus isolating disabled people again. So the waters get a bit muddy, because inclusive design is about making things easier for someone who finds them most difficult, thus making things easier for all and that makes us lazier and lazier.

So want is probably the driving force now. I don’t need 90% of the things I own, for example when preparing vegetables, all I need is a good knife – but I have potatoe peelers, garlic crushers, melon ballers, bean slicers, etc etc.

On the other hand, I think sometimes designers are too eager to try to compel behavior through design, and this is unhealthy. We need to respect people’s right to choose. I wouldn’t buy a leaf blower, but I don’t hold it against people who do.

Every designer compels behavior through design every day, because we design the thing we think is best for the public (sometimes based on research!) and then we inflict it on them. Other designers do exactly the same from their own egotistical drawing board, because companies see someone’s product is selling well and want a slice of the pie with their own product, and this is what creates choice (competition). With most products you are not improving their function, just making them a slightly different shape and color. Because, there are so few true examples of design extending capability from the original version, the vast majority of all of this is driven by making money.


Design is about giving people options. Choice is freedom. If I want to use a leaf blower, and you want to use a rake, design has made both of those things possible. People get to decide, and if enough people choose both, both get produced.

Engineering made both of those things possible - certainly the leaf blower, design just put a robust package around it and a badge on it. Is choice freedom? I don’t know anymore. Do you freely choose, or do you buy X, because your mates have one, you saw it in a magazine modeled by a celebrity, its a chore and this will save you time allowing you to watch more TV. Everyday we are cleverly steered into thinking we are choosing things of our own free will, but are we? Most of the time we buy the same thing as everyone else, just in a different color etc. Does this make us happier. I watch tribal indians on TV in the forests hunting with their hand made tools, not worrying that they don’t own a smeg refrigerator or how a motor would make their lives so much easier, they are poorer and at the same time richer.

If we were honest about it, the main purpose of design is not to extend our capabilities (science, engineering etc do that), it’s to allow creative people a place in 1st world society to stop them getting frustrated in boring jobs and to make themselves and other people money. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Product tank, you hit the nail on the head. This wasn’t a competition to see who could get the right answer, but you are on the same page I am on. That’s why I bring up these questions.

There are big problems in the world and if designers keep being treated, and treat themselves the way they do, we could just make the problem worse. We play a big role in shaping the world and economy, and if we are just jilted intellectuals who can draw nicely and are just getting paid to shut up and work harder, whilst always doing the same thing- how can anything be justified?

For me, it’s kind of opposite. I’m absolutely no stranger to hard work, tackling it is a badge of honor for me. But I have so many different things that I’m into and things to do that I strive to be able to get things done faster and more efficiently, not so that I can do less, but so that I can have time to do and accomplish much more. So to me, good design will enable me to be superhuman, and be able to perform more things better and faster as opposed to just making life easier.

If we were honest about it, the main purpose of design is not to extend our capabilities (science, engineering etc do that), > it’s to allow creative people a place in 1st world society to stop them getting frustrated in boring jobs and to make themselves and other people money. > And there’s nothing wrong with that.

really? i would agree with the latter part of the bold statement, not so much with the former…design is all about choice, its an academic argument as to debate how much “freedom” we have in the choices afforded to us, but design is most definitely about choice. it may be superficial (color, aesthetic) or functional (leaf blower vs. rake) or both (like an oxo good grip product)

there are definitely big problems in the world, 99.99999% of them have nothing to do with designers & design (at least in the way most people would interpret “design”) admittedly i do not have a vast understanding of the role design plays in the whole product creation process and not saying that designers do not have a role to play (everyone has a role to play), however to posit that designers have some special pivotal role to play overstates things a bit…

yes, we could create more thogughtful products, that were better concieved to reach an intended audience, better for the environment, be less wasteful, at a smaller scale, but “at the end of the day” it goes deeper than those things.

Not pivotal, eh?.. let’s take a little moment here to clarify this. Computers to sell= investors, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers. Cars to sell= investors, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers. Mobile Phones= investors, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers. Medical Devices to exist= investors, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers. The list goes on for every field. Sure that isn’t a full list, but you get the picture, those players are the biggest contributors to getting these things off the ground- things our society relies dearly on. Without them, we have no ‘modern civilisation.’

What was this conversation about again? Oh right, the purpose of design. Well, it is whatever you want it to be, like anything the definition is subjective. Someone might say a Doctor is here to preserve life, another prolong life, another delay death, another prevent death, enhance well being, etc etc. I guess it comes down to whether you feel, and those that shape your existence feel, that you are doing not the best thing, but the right thing. Question is, what is the right thing in this day and age?

But I have so many different things that I’m into and things to do that I strive to be able to get things done faster and more efficiently, not so that I can do less, but so that I can have time to do and accomplish much more. So to me, good design will enable me to be superhuman, and be able to perform more things better and faster as opposed to just making life easier.

Good for you, I guess it’s all about giving us more time to spend how we choose and if statistics are to be believed many of us choose to spend that time in front of the TV. You choose to accomplish ‘more’ but to what end - this is the main problem I’ve been struggling with. If I use all these tools to design more things, make all this new stuff - so what, what for? It is (probably) to the detriment of my environment - using up resource etc, as a designer rarely can I or do I improve a product, I just re-package, so (personally) the only purpose it really achieves is to keep me happy/entertained. Its like shooting animals for sport and not eating them. I’m a creator, it’s my life, it’s what I do to my very core, but then i’m not looking to leave behind any physical legacies, I don’t want monuments left to landfill, when I’m gone, I don’t want anything damaging to remain. So as discussed, I know what I like doing, but I also realize it potentially has an adverse effect, which means I’m often in conflict.

Question is, what is the right thing in this day and age?

that’s what I wonder - I’m coming up with an answer but it’s taking a lot longer than thought, like two years and counting.

Junglebrodda

yes, we could create more thoughtful products, that were better conceived to reach an intended audience, better for the environment, be less wasteful, at a smaller scale, but “at the end of the day” it goes deeper than those things.

It does go deeper than those things, but the amount of influence any of us (designers) can have in our capacity as part of a products evolution, is currently, to do exactly those things to the best of our ability. That’s probably as good as it gets for now.

I think with those words, product tank, you’ve basically closed this topic. Establishing that the human condition is evident no matter what you do. The human condition being- why? I guess we’ll either never know, or have to wait a real long time to find out.

Perhaps there should be a public support for a group of motivated ‘anti-design designers’ to methodically deconstruct all designs in the world and really reach into the core of what purpose everything serves, start a real good journal or magazine that goes past the ‘review’ of a product and really critisise things, but then there is already probably something like that and I have just never stumbled across it. Perhaps, we should do that with our own designs- but most people aren’t getting paid to do that are they?

Is there another way for people that like creating things focus their energies? Perhaps someone can design me the option to not have be conflicted when I work? Then, maybe that kind of choice will allow me some degree of ‘freedom’ eh?

Not pivotal, eh?.. let’s take a little moment here to clarify this. Computers to sell= investors, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers. Cars to sell= investors, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers. Mobile Phones= investors, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers. Medical Devices to exist= investors, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers. The list goes on for every field. Sure that isn’t a full list, but you get the picture, those players are the biggest contributors to getting these things off the ground- things our society relies dearly on. Without them, we have no ‘modern civilisation.’

honestly, i think what you describe is the nature of modern industry, as my people sometimes are known to say “cash rules everything around me” and until people are willing to pay the premiums/sacrifice for the long term sustainability of planet and/or the cost of green naterials becomes cheaper, i do not see what design(ers) have to do with that…and i maybe i’m ignorant & naive but i do not see that as pressing the most issues in the world. when i think of the worlds big problems, i.e. culture clash, access to drinking water, famine, the expense of healthcare, hunger, HIV and other infectious deseases, the increasing disparity in how wealth is accumulated & spread, the tug of war between nationalism & globalism, and warfare; i do not hink i’m going far out on a limb to say that designers aren’t being rounded up in mass to get at these problems

What was this conversation about again? Oh right, the purpose of design. Well, it is whatever you want it to be, like anything the definition is subjective. Someone might say a Doctor is here to preserve life, another prolong life, another delay death, another prevent death, enhance well being, etc etc. I guess it comes down to whether you feel, and those that shape your existence feel, that you are doing not the best thing, but the right thing. Question is, what is the right thing in this day and age?

so, i guess we’re back where we started…is it all subjective then?

exactly.

I agree that focusing design entirely on sustainability in order to defer climate change is minor compared to, say, the fact that every minute someone in the world is shot- usually fatally. And in our neighbouring countries, as I sit behind a computer chowing down on a triple stack beef burger and celebrate my ablilty to avoid any disease or responsibilities by having practically free access to a wealth of contraceptives, there is famine, war and crime, uncontrolled disease and extreme overpopulation. But are these things that the we should feel responsible for, enough so that we should be encouraged to design things to defer these problems? Most of these problems are inherent in people. Apparently, climate change is an affect of people too.

You can’t change people, no matter how great your design is. People can change themselves, and even that is negligible. Most people need constant immediate positive reinforcement in order for them to change. To stop someone from using a leaf blower and defer back to a broom would mean that for every few moments of using the broom, they would need a reminder (both physically and mentally- spiritually too if you are that way inclined) as to why they are doing it that way.

These concepts are a big part of religion, if you look deeply enough into it. Positive reinforcement, the encouragement to change, overcome urges, practice certain routines, hold beliefs etc etc. Now the next question for this continual topic is…

Could design, moving past philosphy and ideology, encourage the religious mind?