A, Read: Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby (excerpts from Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects, Birkhaeuser, 2001) * Write a paragraph summarizing the text. What is the most interesting aspect of the text? How does it relate to the project idea you are thinking about? B, Read (scroll down to the english part): Giorgio Cipolletta, “Beyond atoms and bodies: a post-reflection on AE 2016″ (NOEMA 2016) Select one project that interests you mentioned in the text. Find out more about the project on some other website. Write a paragraph about the project and why you find it interesting. https://noemalab.eu/ideas/oltre-atomi-e-corpi-una-post-riflessione-su-ae-2016-beyond-atoms-and-bodies-a-post-reflection-on-ae-2016/Notopia
Beneath the glossysurface ofofficial design lurks a darkand strangeworld driven byreal human needs.
Aplace whereelectronic objects co-star in a noir thriller, working with like-minded individuals to
escape normalisationand ensure that even a totally manufactured environment has room fordanger,
adventure and transgression.We don’t think that design can ever fully anticipate the richnessofthis
unofficial worldand neither should it. But it can draw inspiration from it and developnew design
approaches and roles so that as our newenvironment evolves, there is stillscopefor rich and complex
Corporate futurologists fo rce-feed us a ‘happy-ever-after’ portrayal oflife where technologyis the
solution to everyproblem. There is no roomfordoubt or complexity in their techno-utopian visions.
Everyone is a stereotype,and social and cultural roles remain unchanged. Despite the fact that
technologyis evolving, the imagined productsthat feature in their fantasies reassure us that nothing
essential will change, everything will stay the same.These future forecasters have a conservative role,
predictingpatterns ofbehaviourin relationto technological developments. Theydraw fromwhat we
alreadyknow about people, and weave new ideas into existing realities. The resulting scenarios extend
pre-existent reality into the future and so reinforce the status quo rather than challenging it. Their slick
surface distracts us from the dystopian vision oflife theywish for. By designingthe props for the videos
produced to show us what the future could be like, design works to keep official values in place.
An occasional glance through almost any newspaper revealsa verydifferent viewofeveryday life, where
complexemotions, desires and needs are played out through the misuse and abuseofelectronic
products and systems.Amother shoots her son after an argument over which television channel to
watch; a parent is outraged bya speaking dollmade in China whichsounds like it swears;the police set a
trap for scanner snoopers- people who listen in to emergency radio frequencies illegally- by
broadcasting a message that a UFO has landed in a local forest, within minutes several carsarriveand
their scanners are confiscated. Many ofthesestories illustrate the narrative space entered byusing and
misusing a simple electronic product, howinteractionwith everyday electronic technologies can
generate rich narratives that challenge the conformity ofeveryday life by short-circuiting our emotions
and states of mind. Thesestoriesblend the physical realityof place with electronically mediated
experience and mental affect. Theyform part ofa pathology of material culture that includes
aberrations, transgressions and obsessions, the consequencesofand motivationsfor the misuse of
objects, and object malfunctions. Theyprovide glimpses ofanother more complex reality hidden
beneath the slick surface of electronic consumerism.
Amateur subversions and beta-testers
When an object’s use is subverted, it is as though the protagonist ischeating the system and deriving
more pleasure than is his or her due. Thesubversion offunction relates to a breakdown oforder;
something else becomes visible, unnameable, unable to fi nd a correspondence in the material world.
This subversion offunction is related to not being able to find the right word, leading to the coining of
neologisms that bend language to accommodate something new. Desire leads to a subversion of the
environment creatingan opportunity to reconfigure it to suit our ‘illegitimate’ needs, establishing new
Some people already exploit the potentially subversive possibilities ofthis parallel world ofiIlicit
pleasures stolenfrom commodified experience. They seekout (ab)user-friendly products that lend
themselves to imaginative possibilities forshort-circuiting the combinatorial limits suggested by
electronic products. This ranges from terrorists fashioning bombs andweapons out ofmundane
everyday objects, many ofwhich are listed in theAnarchist Cookbook, to Otaku magazines showing
Japanese gadget geeks how to modify standard electronic products to squeeze extrafunctionality out of
them. There are no futurologists at work here. The mainplayers in thisworld are beta-testers, tweaking
andadjusting reality on a day-to-day basis. They are dissatisfied withtheversion ofreality on offer, but
ratherthan escaping or dropping out,theyadjustit to suit themselves. Concerned withsoftware not
hardware, theyinvent new uses for existing technologies andpromote interaction with’designed’
objects that subverttheir anticipated uses. In doing so,theychallenge the mechanisms that legitimise
theconceptual models embodied in thedesign ofthe product or system anddemonstrate behaviours
towards technology that invite othersto follow.
Beta-testers have learnt how to derive enjoyment from electronic materiality, from rejecting the
material realities on offer andconstructing theirown. They display a level ofpleasure incustomisation
currently limited to homeDIY andcustom car hobbyists. Many specialist magazines andbooks are
already available that show readers how to modify or tweak everyday electronic products. Most ofthem
area littletechnical, but only because knowledge ofelectronics isstillnot ascommon asotherforms of
practical know-how. After all, an ever-growing numberofhome improvement magazines andTV
programmes thriveon the pleasure people getfrom modifying theirenvironments themselves – of
customising reality. Maybe in the future we wiII seepopular electronics magazines that show us how to
turn our mobile phones intoeavesdropping devices in three easy steps?
Consumers asanti-heroes: some cautionary tales
The almost unbelievable stories reported in newspapers testify to the unpredictable potential ofhuman
beings to establish new situations despite the constraints on everyday life imposed throughelectronic
objects. We are interested in people who have assimilated electronic technologies sofully intotheir lives
that they feel comfortable doing thingsotherswould thinkofasalmost toosacred or highly charged for
technology. These individuals canbethoughtofassad, based on the view that playing out deeply human
narratives through technological objects isdegrading and inferior to moretraditional media. Or they
canbeseenas early adopters, able to find meaning and recognise the potential ofnew technologies for
supporting complex humanemotions anddesires.
Teenagers are now usingtheir mobile phones to intimidate eachother. Anew form ofbullying has
emerged since Christmas 1999, when a huge numberofteenagers in Britain received pre-paid mobile
phones asgifts. Earlier in the year, a 15-year-old was driven to suicide afterreceiving upto 20silentcalls
in halfan hour. Theteenager left a suicide textmessage on her mobile phone the nightbefore she died.
The fact that her suicide notewas in the form ofa textmessage ratherthan handwritten will seem even
more tragic to some, but to thisgirltextmessages played a morevital role in her life than letters.
As a society weare strugglingto define and communicate the safe useofnew media to teenagers. Just as
wehave developed models ofsafe behaviour forthe street and for dealing with strangers in cars,wewill
have to do so forphonesand computers. It is not that these technologies are in themselves harmful, it is
their useand misuse that we needto understand. Another distressing example is that ofthe 16-year-old
schoolgirl raped bya manshe chattedup with phonetext messages. Sheswapped messages forweeks
before agreeing to meet the stranger in a car park. For many teenagers, the mobile phoneisa gateway to
romance, and newhybrid services are fusing the lonely hearts columnwithtext messaging. It isonlya
matter of time before purely text-based romancingmatures asa genre ofits own.
Amore humorousexample is the man in Australia who married his TV. Duringthe ceremony, heplaced
a goldwedding ring on top ofthe TV set and one on his finger. Heeven promised to ‘love, honourand
obey’ the product.One day it just occurred to him that his TV was the bestcompanion he hadever hadhe watched up to ten hours a day. It iseasy to criticise people whowatchso much TV, but in many ways
this formofhappiness shows what mightbe in store forthe rest ofus as society becomes even more
electronically mediated. Thoughit is not necessarily a good thing, somepeople clearly find the
company ofelectronic productsmoresatisfying than that ofpeople. These individuals are not rejecting
other people because oftechnology; they have found happiness with technolgy instead. Before the
advent oftelevision and the web, they might have beenlonely.
Maybe these obsessive behaviours provide glimpses ofa futurewhereelectronic products have been
fully assimilated into everyday culture and our psyche. They are cautionary tales; theypushour
relationshipwith the mediumofelectronic technology to the limit.Thisis despite the design ofthe
products: in factthere isa contrast between the banaldesign ofmany electronic products and the
extreme misuses theyare subjected to. Products couldoffer morecomplex and demanding aesthetic
experiences ifdesigners referred to this bizarreworld ofthe ‘infra-ordinary’, where storiesshow that
truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and prove that our experience ofeveryday day life lived through
conventional electronic productsisaesthetically impoverished.
Electronicproduct as neglected medium
The uniquenarrative potential ofconsumerelectronic products has received surprisingly little attention
fromartists and designers. Even though industrial designplays a part in the designofextreme pain
(e.g.weapons)and pleasure (e.g. sexaids), the range ofemotions offered through most electronic
products is patheticallynarrow.
Whenthe SonyWalkman was introduced in the early 1980s, it offered people a newkindof relationship
to urban space. It allowed the wearer to create their ownportable micro-environment, and it provideda
soundtrack for travel through the city, encouragingdifferent readings offamiliar settings. It functioned
as an urban interface. Nearly twentyyears on, there are hundreds ofvariations on the original Walkman,
but the relationship it created to the cityremains the same. This scenarioreflectshowproductdesigners
have responded to the aestheticchallenge ofelectronic technology. Theyhave accepted a roleas a
semiotician, a companionofpackaging designers and marketeers, creatingsemioticskinsfor
incomprehensibletechnologies.Theelectronic product accordingly occupies a strange place in the
worldof material culture, closer to washing powder and cough mixture than furniture and architecture.
Form and texture are manipulated to evoke a worldoffantasy and fiction, blurring distinctions between
everyday life and the hyper-realityofadvertising and branding.
This isjust one approach to product design,one genre ifyou like, which offers a very limited experience.
Like a Hollywood movie, the emphasis is on easypleasure and conformist values. This genre reinforces
the status quo rather than challenging it. We are surrounded byproductsthat give us an illusion
ofchoiceand encourage passivity. But industrial design’s positionat the heart ofconsumer culture
(it isfuelled bythe capitalist system, after all) couldbesubverted for more socially beneficial ends by
providing a unique aesthetic mediumthat engagesthe user’s imaginationin waysa film might,
without being utopian or prescribing how things ought to be.
Electronic products and servicescould enrich and expand our experience ofeveryday life rather than
closing it down; theycould become a medium for experiencing complex aesthetic situations. To achieve
this, designers wouldhave to think about products and services verydifferently. There could be so
many other genres of product beyond the bland Hollywood mainstream: arthouse, porn, romance,
horror – noir, even – that exploit the unique and exciting functional and aesthetic potential of
electronic technology. Although many products already fall into genres- Alessi products attempt
design as comedy, designs forweapons and medical equipment can shockand horrify, sex-aidsare
obviouslya form of design pornand white goods expressa wholesome and romantic ideaof settled
domesticity- they do not aesthetically challenge or disturb.
Ifthe current situation in productdesign is analogous to the Hollywood blockbuster,then an
interesting placeto explore in more detail might be its opposite: Design Noir.As a genre, it would focus
on howthe psychological dimensions ofexperiences offered through electronic products can be expanded.
By referringto the world ofproduct misuse and abuse,where desire overflows its material limits and
subvertsthe function ofeveryday objects, this product genre wouldaddress the darker, conceptual
models of needthat are usually limited to cinemaand literature.
. ..v :
Noir productswould be conceptual products, a medium that fusescomplexnarratives with everyday
life. This isverydifferent from conceptual design, which uses design proposalsasa medium for
exploring what these products might be like. Conceptual design can exist comfortablyin book or video
form, it is about life whereas conceptual productsare part oflife. With this formofdesign, the ‘product’
would be a fusion ofpsychological and external ‘realities’, the user would becomea protagonist and coproducer ofnarrative experience rather than a passive consumer of a product’s meaning. The mental
interfacebetween the individual and the product is where the ‘experience’ lies. Electronic technology
makes this meeting more fluid , more complexand more interesting.
Likein Film Noir, the emphasis would beon existentialism. Imagine objects that generate ‘existential
moments’ – a dilemma, for instance- whichtheywould stageor dramatise. These objects would not
help people to adapt to existingsocial, cultural and political values. Instead, the product would force
a decision onto the user, revealing how limited choices are usually hard-wired into products for us.
On another level, we couldsimplyenjoythe wickedness ofthe values embedded in these products and
services. Their veryexistence is enough to create pleasure.
Many interesting examplesof noir products already exist, but theyare not created by designers.
Thebest examplesofhowdesign responds to the psychological andbehavioural dimensionsofelectronics
can be found at the edgesofanonymous design. Theseproducts and services work on a radically
differentaesthetic principal from traditional products: it iswhat theydo that creates pleasure, not how
they look and fee l. It is the thrilloftransgression that counts here. Even ifwedo not use them, just
imagining these objects in use creates a strong and perversely enjoyable experience.Theyshowhow
designproductsand services canfunction asa mediumfor producing complex psychological experiences.
The Truth Phone, a real productproducedbythe Counter Spy shop, is one example ofhowa Noir
product might work. It combines a voice stress analyser with a telephone, and shows howelectronic
products have the potential to generate a chain of events which together forma story. If youconsider
products in thisway, the focus ofthe designshiftsfromconcerns ofphysical interaction (passive button
pushing) to the potential psychological experiences inherent in the product. Imagine speaking to your
mother or a lover while the Truth Phone suggeststheyare lying. The user becomes a protagonist and
the designerbecomes a co-author ofthe experience, the productcreates dilemmasrather than
resolving them. By using the phone, the ownerexploresboundaries between himselfand the paranoid
user suggested bythe product, entering into a psychological adventure.
TheTruth Phone and similar electronicobjects generatea conceptual space where interactivity can
challenge and enlarge the schemethrough which weinterpret our experiences ofusing everyday
electronic objects and the social experiences they mediate. Theeffect is not onlylimited to products:
as its name suggests, Ace-Alibi.corn isa service for creating falsealibis.When you subscribe, you might
choose an option that involves beingsent a letter inviting you to a conference.The letter will be
postmarked with the correct area code, and youcan alsoarrange to leave a contact number whichwill
beanswered in the correct regional accent. Franchises ofthis service are available, although the people
behind the scheme are nervous about offering the service in the United States, in casetheyare suedfor
their part in helping employees bunk offwork. We findthis service interesting because it meets a real
neednot fulfilledanywhere else. You maynot agreewith it or choose to use it, but manypeople use this
service. The pleasureprovided bythe existence ofa service like this lies is in resolving the dilemmait
presents. It is as though the internet reflects human nature in all its imperfections while the material
world ofconsumer products onlyreflects idealised notions ofcorrect behaviour.
Alongsimilar linesto Ace-Alibi.corn is the Alibi CD producedin Germanyby Silenzio. It contains
recordings ofstreet sounds, airport announcements fromdifferent countries, train stations, barsand
beaches. Designed for those’little white lies in between’, the CD is intendedto be played in the
background while youare making a telephone call from a place you should not be. This soundtrack CD
allows you to cut and paste reality. Its veryexistence triggers a chain ofthoughts and narrativesin the
TERMS , CONDI TIONS & DI SCLAIMER
Documenta t i on is issued by Fa st Tra ck Se rvice s to t he c l i e n t fo r
the purposes of s ub s t a n t i a t i ng an alibi to he l p ensure t hat a
re lat i ons hip r emai ns stab le and i s no t to be us e d i n co nj u nct io n
with Ta x Re turns, Vat Pu r poses or f or a ny ot he r fi na nc ia l ga i n . Al l
docume n tat i on is fictit ious in nat ur e, a nd as such , ca nno t be us ed
i n c onjunction with any c r i mi na l act wha t s oe ve r. Fast Tra c k Se r v ice s
wi ll not be hel d respon s ible for the break down o f any re l a ti on s hip
or a ny court a c t i on or l i ti ga t ion wha t s oe ver . Fa s t Tr a ck Serv ices
o f f e r a s ervice t o help p ro t ec t t he fa mi ly un it o r re latio ns hi p fro m
di stress ca us e d by e mot i on a l or a ny o t he r turmoi l which may o c c u r
due t o the dis cl osure o f a n y actions taking p lace ou t s i d e o f the
no r ma l relat i onship . Fa s t Tr a ck Servi ces do not c ondone o r disag r ee
wi th sa id actio ns. Al t ho ugh al l pos sib le safeguards a n d me a sure s a r e
t a ken , no gu a r a n te e is given t o a n y member t o e nsure that th eir
par t ne r will not become a ware o f ” ot h e r” r el a ti on s hips. No Re f u nds
whats o e ver a re g i ven unde r an y circumstances.
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