Greg Borenstein writes an interesting article delving into the manufactured normality of objects and experiences. While illuminating the the Manufactured Normalcy Field, Greg reminds us just how un-normal it is to fly in an airplane, yet the experience for most people is completely commonplace. It fades out of interest and becomes almost as normal as opening the refrigerator. The normalcy of this experience is heavily controlled by the design choices made by the airline and the plane manufacturers: smaller windows keep you from seeing you are a mile from the ground, carpeting and clever lighting remind you of any generic commercial space, etc. Greg argues that designer has power over taking the design in and out of normalcy. For as normal as you can make an experience or product, you can also “weird” it out with design choices that dislodge it from the background of everyday life and making it note worthy once again.
The success of a manufactured object in the commercial realm can entirely depend on this element of design. Some products are best faded out view of the everyday for example toilet paper or a dictionary other objects may need to be weird to the point of intrigue like a furby you just can’t stop looking at because it blinks and quacks at you. You buy the furby, but you do not need the furby. +1 for furby.
Greg then gets a little deeper into the abstract and looks at objects on an equal playing field, comparing them solely by their relation to one another; object oriented ontology is a name for this sort of comparison. He talks about the experience of objects in another article “what its like to be an object in the 21st Century” and I can’t help but notice a strange turn towards anthropomorphism. I’m not sure taking objects out of the social order in which they were created and giving them their own lives and identities, especially secret lives according to the speculative realists, is really going to help us understand the things that we create as we move onward into the future. This whole philosophical tangent comes out of Greg’s desire to re-imagine the New Aesthetic research performed by James Bridle which is a very interesting collection of future objects and “now” objects.
Looking at this collection of ideas, prototypes and real objects that all relate to the new way of seeing the world brings me back the notion of designing for the manufactured normalcy field. As we create new classes of objects–objects and experiences that truly never existed before (my favorite being a camera that sits on the hearth and takes pictures of the party for you!)–we have to also create the metal map for how they work in our lives and make the design choices that will allow them, no matter how weird, to fit comfortably into society. I don’t agree with the object oriented ontologists and the speculative realists about how we understand these things though, all things are not created equally. Objects don’t have identities, people have identities and project them into the things we create and use. Those speculative realists say that two objets that relate to each other won’t ever really know each other, which is only true in the sense that the person who experiences or creates those objects won’t ever really know what the world is like outside of his or her own experience of it.
When thinking about design and innovation, as hard as you try you cannot take the ego out of the equation. All you can ever really know is what is normal for you, which is a great case for play-testing EVERYTHING.
SIDE NOTE: Greg also helped me realize that Plato was the original programmer. His universal abstractions are classes. The chair is just an instance of class “Chair” and its shape is merely an attribute of this instance. WTF Plato…why didn’t YOU come up with processing??