The Philosophy of Familiarism

My friend Nick Baker just published an article detailing a design philosophy he developed and coined called Familiarism. He defines it as…

…the design philosophy of adding a familiar or subconscious interaction to a new or incongruous object in the effort to create an easier or more unique experience.

I would encourage you to read the following article, and let him know what you think.

Copypasta from the other thread for Nick :wink:
I think this is honestly pretty pretentious. So he’s some guy online who looked at Fukasawas’ style really hard and then came up with this new “design style” that he puts next to things like modernism and minimalism? I’m sorry but I think he has no idea about design theory and never really digged into contemporary design discourse. I would suggest him to read a proper book on that topic, eg. “The semantic turn” by Klaus Krippendorf which deals with this topic and many more in great depth. If he says he did research if something like this already exists and “came back empty handed” I would say he didn’t really look very hard in the first place.

Thank you Mrog for the feedback.

To be clear, I did not invent or create this type of design. I’ve only observed it and feel like it lacked a name as stated by the first paragraph in the article.

Yes, I may not have a doctorate in design theory but I don’t think this should exclude me from sharing my thoughts and observations.

I will have to check out that book, thank you. Please send any more research my way, I would love to refine this idea further.

Cheers,
Nick

Hi Nick, I know you didn’t claim to have invented this and of course you are allowed to share your thoughts and observations.
At the same time I think I have been a bit harsher in my assesment simply because I know you have a certain reach on social media and probably especially a lot of students follow you. With this reach you have a certain responsibility. This may sound overly dramatic but don’t underestimate the amount of students who just gobble up everything you serve them without the proper background. In the last 20 years there has been done an extensive amount of research on these topics and there is a big push to establish design as it’s own social science - and that starts by agreeing on a common language. By introducing competing terms to thousands of students without actually putting much thought or research into them you are basically undercutting the efforts to form a common ground that the social science called design can be based upon. Who do you serve by coining the term familiarism? Do you do it to advance the greater design discourse or is it something that would mostly serve yourself?
I am strictly a design practitioner myself and only follow design theory to advance my own mindset - and I think proper design theory and the knowledge about it serves us all and elevates design from a pure craft based discipline to something that can be argued and reasoned with. If you want to read up on it search the keyword “product semantics” - there is a whole wealth on publications on this topic that analyses very thorougly how function, form, meaning, affordance and culture play together and shape contemporary industrial design. I would applaud you and appreciate if you could bring a deeper and more meaningful well researched design theory to your many many followers - something that is really lacking in the popular design community. Because let’s be honest, most designers don’t want to read a 400 pages book about design theory and product semantics.

Oh. You mean this then.

By “He”, do you mean John Dewey?

YIKES

I don’t get it, how is it any different from intuitive design? I feel like it’s short sighted and hasn’t been researched fully.

Straight out of Don Normans “Design of Everyday Things,” read: affordances.

“Affordances are an object’s properties that show the possible actions users can take with it, thereby suggesting how they may interact with that object. For instance, a button can look as if it needs to be turned or pushed. The characteristics of the button which make it look “turnable” or “pushable” together form its affordances.”

The only reason we know that a button is a button is from experience, aka familiarity.

This is great guys, thank you for all this info. In terms of the affordance idea, yes familiarism definitely incorporates interactions that are familiar. The difference that I have noticed is when you add a familiar interaction to a new or incongruous object in hopes of creating a more unique or user friendly experience.

As a designerly attempt to add value to the user interaction, I think it can bring charm and humor to a design.

As a serious theoretical attempt in HCI, I think it is a very limited strategy.
Essentially metaphorical, it fails to convey the right mental model for multidimensional interactive systems.
In the example with the cork-operated radio, how would one change the volume? Levitate the cork - or would we rather pull a furry tail? Because that is how it works with a cat.
The HCI community generally recommends to avoid the temptation of metaphors and seek out to convey a product identity of its own (not a merged identity between a radio and a wine bottle, say) that has a more fitting mental model.

So if I’m getting this straight, as designers, we should be combining old and new.

Wow.

Mind.

Blown.

+1, nice response.

That is why I think this kind of thing gets lumped into Post Modernism.

Intuitive design is something where you could probably figure out, like if there was a tab on something, you could assume that it has a function. Familiarism is taking existing elements such as a chain to a fan to make the product intuitive. Since you know what the fan does, you can assume a similar behavior for the product(ie CD starts playing).

Both the tab and the pull chain fall into the realm of physical and cognitive affordance which has been popularized by Don Norman, as well as others. Although I applaud Nick in documenting his thoughts, I can’t help but respond with Mrog’s comment of " Who do you serve by coining the term familiarism? Do you do it to advance the greater design discourse or is it something that would mostly serve yourself?"

I think it can help the greater design community. After learning about this concept in July, I started to work on a coin bank inspired by these kind of familiar actions. I ended up calling my creation the “Hammer Bank” and it plays off the idea of “Break glass incase of emergency”. When you see a hammer, you instantly know how hold it. To open the bank, it must be smashed. The form of the object informs the user how to open the bank.

More info about the project can be found here → Behance

cf

Nice project, but again, that handle provides affordance of the use. In fact, as an outsider looking at the object a “break glass in case of emergency” never even crossed my mind. What did cross my mind though is the action that the handle and hammer end afford combined with the delicate nature of the material giving cue to the user to smash the object.

I think it can help the greater design community. After learning about this concept in July, I started to work on a coin bank inspired by these kind of familiar actions. I ended up calling my creation the “Hammer Bank” and it plays off the idea of “Break glass incase of emergency”. When you see a hammer, you instantly know how hold it. To open the bank, it must be smashed. The form of the object informs the user how to open the bank.

There are a coupe of things that don’t make sense to me:

  • First, why is it familiar that you must break something to use it. Yes, “break glass in case of emergency” is a specific action to remove a barrier to access a solution to an urgent situation and uses a hammer shape because everyone knows how to use a hammer. However, we all also know that it’s not the hammer that breaks. To follow your logic you should supply a hammer to break your hammer.


  • Breaking piggy banks went away when users realized that the bank often cost more than the value of the contents. I suspect this will be true of your hammer bank. Why must you break something to satisfy a metaphor?

Design is about solving problems not complicating and confusing the dialogue.

The idea is when you see a hammer you know to hold it in a particular way and what action to perform with it. My explanation might have been misleading. This is simply one example of a product using this philosophy.

The idea is when you see a hammer you know to hold it in a particular way and what action to perform with it.

Yes, of course, …WHEN IT’S ACTUALLY A HAMMER!!!

If you can make your designs desirable in your own way, the way Dutch design does through materiality and simplicity, and Fukasawa through beauty and subtlety, I think you have something here. Make the interaction more of a selling point.