How does one measure the aesthetics of technology implementation

I want to start a discussion regarding an aesthetic for measuring the use of technology in industrial design projects.

I have mine own ideas and measurements which I would be happy to share but I also don’t want to pollute the water too much. I would rather start slow with my description because it is quite elaborate.

The impetus is this personal observation:
Technology has become too small to measure; it is easier to add complexity than to create something simple.

If industrial design is the philosophical use of resources then it has aesthetic and its medium is technology. This has been true since at least Amenhotep.

I have been working on putting together small run manufacturing facility. It is one of those projects where I hit an obstacle and have to spend 5 years working around it.
I have finally hit a point where I think I’m all set-up.

Cogs Inc. is headquartered in an old school. I have converted 7 classrooms into studio apartments. The idea is that the whole building is design lab for human living systems.
I have finally gotten the first 4 studios ready. I chose studio apartments because I want to work on small compact efficient appliances.

Repeatability is one aspect that separates industrial design from sculpture, woodworking, and art. If I can produce enough items for the 7 apartments I could go on to produce at almost any quantity.

The perimeter of the apartments has a French cleat that is meant to be the foundation for the closets and furniture.

This is the listing for the units. They are available and I would love to fill them with designers(shameless plug). There is a fiber optic line to the building and we have some static IPs.

That is probably enough for now. I’m in a weird stage of wrapping up a 4.5 year push to transition to what I’m doing next. I appreciate any feedback. As I start to actually create artifacts I will keep this thread current.

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Going through another thread I thought I saw a couple of interesting topics. The first topic brought up the difference between a naive design mind and mind burdened with knowledge of regulations.

This is not a new divide it’s the classic amateur vs. expert problem and how does one know when to think naively and when to be pro. I don’t see with a right or wrong answer but I think the proper use of naivety while evaluating each known regulation is the approach. Which leads to the second topic.

Regulations and building codes are parameters that define the aesthetic. The last bathrooms I designed I had to comply with IBC 9 and I simple took the plan views of the ADA drawings in the code book to design the bathroom. City skylines are drawn the same way.

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I thought I would post some images to my technology archive. These images document artifacts from pre-microprocessor computers. One is from a German company called Nixdorf now known as Siemens. The computer I have is an 820 which has rod and core memory. One would look at the memory board as a “database record” and wrap copper wires around the memory or “fields of the that record”.

The other items are from a company called Autonetics. They developed a digital computer design and tried to express that design using the big 3 digital mediums of their time. The first components belong to an inertial guidance system created using discrete components (resistors, diodes, and small vacuum tubes.) The second generation eliminated the vacuum tubes and actually made it out of development. The D-17B. Finally Autonetics developed a photolithographic process to shrink the size of the computer. The D-17B was hand assembled in large rooms filled with older women. The new process they developed are represented in a chip sales kit that is from 1967. The giant brass Autonetics logo is from the Chicago office removed when purchased by Boeing.

Here are some of the items. The computer read information from the gyroscopes (big one pictured with the iPhone, smaller gyro is from the 80’s maybe a tomahawk) checked various tables and adjusted its propulsion appropriately.



The idea is to turn these artifacts into an exhibit.

These artifacts are being collected to document the development process and to inspire a wider range of human computer interactions.

It will help me think over and then consider a reply if you explicate a little more by what you mean by the choice of the word ‘aesthetics’ in tech implementation? From the couple of brief examples you’ve given it seems like a metric of something but the word is not enough for me to understand what you’re hoping to evaluate?

@Niti Thank you so much for taking an interest.

A metric is exactly it. The idea comes from philosophy I think. An aesthetic in this sense is what we designers believe is “elegant”.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance was a big influence of my choice of this language and my thought process in general. The book was on a list of books that our ID department encourage reading.

This may sound like a rant and it is but I maybe overly harsh just to make a point.

Basically when I look at the technology around us I see it as completely inappropriate and most people developing it are completely blind to the implications they are making daily.

Computers are more than fast and small enough and the industry is mostly running on goals that demonstrate progress to Wall Street rather then actual human progress.

I believe that Silicon Valley is portrayed as a technology Mecca when it fact it is business plan and financing Mecca.

While I have held these bitter beliefs most of my design life I have been studying technology as a tool and the human use and development of that tool.

What I’m doing about this is establishing a small run manufacturing facility. The idea is that if one looks at the material cost of Sub-Zero refrigerator vs. it’s retail price there is an opportunity to use much better materials and perhaps a different overall different approach in small runs.

Originally the plan was to design and manufacture 10 of anything. So 10 refrigerators would be created to understand both the refrigerator and demonstrate the repeatability.

If I sold all 10 I could make more. I would then move on to the next product say a blender and make 10 of those.

I have been working on this so long that I was able to as domain name so each product would show in a

I have shifted the plan a bit. I bought an old school house and have converted the 7 classrooms into 7 mixed-use studio apartments. I’m now able to design appliances for the 7 apartments and see how the humans react. My product development process will have 2 tracts. A sloppy, in-efficient tract that will be tested using the building, A second tract will be an extremely refined version focused on the marine industry.

The overall goal will be to close the gap between the resources used by the overdeveloped world and the underdeveloped world.

Here are the photos of the transition of the school building.

I’m currently trying to design a line energy efficient appliances for small apartments and I have the freedom to create a technical foundation for these appliances. This gives me the design freedom to ignore the overall realities of technology in the American household.

Now I need an aesthetic to judge the quality of my appliances.

Some values are a given based on the shoulders we all stand on:
Human Factors

Some are imposed from the outside
Building Codes
UL listings

So I’m interested in what makes sense if one was starting from scratch today.
A big one I’m working on is that the pursuit of smaller circuits is wrong we need larger circuits. I will be working on sophisticated laminates created using Vacuum Resin Infusion. I will be trying to set-up an environment where real world manipulations of objects removes the computer from our everyday direct manipulations.

I’m talking about here because I have been too isolated and I need a support group.
Somehow I have made it to the point where this is actually my job.

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Feel free to rant further here. You’re on to something but you are still struggling to articulate. IMO, the clarity you’ll arrive at by trying to explain it to me will be doubly beneficial as it will also allow you to identify the criteria by which you want to evaluate your design outputs and outcome, and ideally, build on your ‘practice based research’ to generate a more generic framework of evaluation.

One thought that came to mind as read your comment was “minimize resources/maximize ROI” as one of the design drivers for informing your product development trajectory.

Tell me more about this:

I put in most of a decade pondering design for the allegedly underdeveloped world. And after going back to school in my 50s in the pandemic years and becoming immersed in Nordic sensibilities of sustainability, circular, and ‘more than human’ life and wellbeing concerns, I wonder whether it might not make sense to begin first by questioning What is development? And, should the ideals of a developed society be created afresh to reflect contemporary issues with resources, pollution, industrialization, supply chains, et al and then begin to develop a framework for evaluation.

We might need an entirely novel set of filters and criteria before we can develop your aesthetic. And, I suspect that might need us to begin by questioning what the higher order values that you wish to reflect in your product design and manufacturing - the whole thing, as it were

Much of your examples for this - which you already recognize as necessary - are in the engineering detail level, hence perhaps your struggle to convert production details into an aesthetic framework

let’s put aside your hands on experiments at the product component level for a minute and step back and articulate what exactly is the vision of the aesthetic that you aim to develop from scratch?

What higher order/metadesign vision should this line of development reflect? What is the message that your apartments wish to convey?

Then, I suspect, we’ll be able to find a way to link the details of smaller circuits to the reflection of the ideals of the vision/message/aesthetic far more easily

Are you familiar with George Birkoff’s work with aesthetic measurements? M=f (OC) where O stands for order and C for complexity. His foundational work has been used to inform the more contemporary field of Computational Aesthetics, which may lead to your aim of defining a metric for technology aesthetics.

Another area of study might be the performance metrics of machine learning algorithms. Things like: Confusion matrix, Accuracy, Recall, Sensitivity, Specificity and Precision are all methods used to measure an algorithm’s ability to solve a problem.

One concept in particular that I am studying currently is the “fitness functions” of algorithms as applied to genetics. Here, we are aiming at measuring the success level of a solution. Solutions are represented by a string of binary numbers (known as chromosomes) and thus can be measured against their success or failure at solving a problem.

Many of our systems are now run on algorithms these days, and these principles are deeply rooted in them. Designing an algorithm for your project seems a possible starting point for your project to monitor the aesthetics of technology in your system as you design, develop, test and implement it.

I’m really encouraged by all of your references I see plenty of evidence such as a appropriate technology and lowtechmagazine.

Yes part of the idea is definitely technology as a medium. I see many poor technical implementation that are simply judged by the wrong yardstick.

Getting down to brass tacks the aspirations for today’s technology were completely flushed out and demoed in 1968 by Douglas Engelbart in 1968 in the mother of all demos. This demonstrates to me how universal and timeless human desires are. I discovered Douglas Engelbert while researching my senior thesis in 1991. I’m floored that the demo is now available on YouTube.

The apartments are really just a vehicle for me to create a modern world that doesn’t exist. Think of it a as small scale Roosevelt Island. One of my ambitions is to run pneumatic air into each kitchen just to open up the possibilities.

Every major development in kitchen design came from new capabilities being introduced. Fire, running water, ice, electricity,…

I’m prepared for the aesthetic to show up retroactively. One example for the apartments is the that I have installed a French cleat surrounding the parameter and I’m currently working on making a design language for the furniture in the apartments.

The problem I have with the current standards for technology is that the complexity often outweighs the desire and complexity appears from the generic nature of the implementation.

Not at all I will check it out.

It many ways algorithms are not new at all. We have weaving, calendars, clock escapements.

The friction I have with current systems is that a general purpose computer is almost to general. There was a period of time where the complexity of the general purpose computer was worth it but we have reached a certain maturation point in development.

Computers have very little visibility into their behavior so by bringing more physical manipulatives into the computer we can move away from directly working with computers to operating in a context that is synchronized with computers.

@Niti_Bhan I will try to take a couple of days to really think through your ideas and create the list that is in my head.


A few more points and then I might not be able to drop back in until Saturday as I have a deadline.

  1. Underlying frameworks and assumptions surrounding technology as a platform and its development - we need to question those. Just the difference in mindset between Finland and the US, alone, is mindblowing in differences in orientation regarding energy use, complexity, ease of use, and critically, business model/revenue models.
    1a. Design methodology also reflects this difference. HCD/UCD evolved out of the Bay Area/tech giants/NN group etc and its fundamental premise is extraction of user’s data for exploitation for the profitable benefit of the extractors, with little consideration of reciprocal value creation for the end users. Compared this to Scandinavian traditions in participatory design approaches (read Bodker, Ehn, Hillgren, et al particularly work 20 years ago as you might be reinventing some wheels which may have already been developed. Sanders & Stappers 2008 is a great starting point for this. All links in this brief rant here

It is clear that now we must begin evaluating schools of design based on their underlying philosophy of values2. Value systems are the intangible aspect of the form giving process that characterizes industrial design yet few are able to evaluate the relative merits of various schools of thought.

For instance, human centered design or user centered design, is a design methodology that privileges maximization of value extraction from an ecosystem to benefit shareholders of the design investment. Whereas, the Scandinavian participatory design approach is configured to privilege the autonomy of the users, who are called participants in the design and development process (and not “users”, which in turn embeds the locus of decision making and agency implicitly) and aims to provide them with the skills and tools to adapt their own industrial ecological systems to best fit for purpose.

“Purpose” here is collectively defined by consensus of all stakeholders, which may include the shareholders of the design investment, in addition to their employees, customers, and service providers. source: Design Thinking for the post pandemic era – Perspective

  1. An intangible/invisible part of what you seem to be working on (and I could be wrong, going by a couple of blogposts in a comment thread) is change in daily practices of your intended end users, the residents of the studio apartments for ex. There is a lot of work done around social practices/daily practices - Shove & Walker, for ex, looked at daily showers and how they became a national habit, and the entire invisble infrastructural system of heating, water, plumbing et al behind it, as compared to the older habit of a bath tub. I have a feeling this thread also runs through your work.


I really appreciate the feedback and I have definitely had a revelation. Which I think has resulted in some very simple ideas and language.

The premise is that technology development has become too small to observe, understand, troubleshoot.
Recent technology development was first considered a differential engine and is predominately expressed as a differential equation. These equations are finally expressed as circuits or loops.

As an industrial designer one works towards an integration of industry and humans using these loops.

These loops operate as touchstone between the human context and the real world. This technology aesthetic will use the loop as the lowest common denominator. Natural language naming of the contents of that loop will develop the human context.

The difference between this and a programming language is that a programming language is bounded but the creator expectations. This is a naming and oraganizational scheme for arranging technical implementations.

Thanks to all. I’m going to take a couple of weeks and see what sort of website I can make to describe the building using this insight.

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