Design as Inquiry: Prospects for a Material Philosophy, 20072015
For many, design is the production of useful artefacts. Designing can however also provide a basis for exploration, speculation or critique. This thesis develops this conception further by providing a theoretical framework for conceiving designing and design objects as a mode of and media for philosophical inquiry. Design is regarded as a material philosophy that explores and reflects philosophical issues by situating them in the concrete and particular reality of human life rather than in a generalised and abstract realm.
Design objects are equipment and media that can be understood in terms of their contextual references and consequences as well as the way in which they mediate human action, thinking and existence, and thus in terms of the worlds that they open up. As media for reflection they allow one to gain an experiential understanding of these contexts and worlds. Design thus relates to philosophy in terms of ethics and concepts; that is, in terms of exploring possibilities of existence and new forms of thinking. Since design objects can create new experiences and interactions they can lead to new values and concepts. These objects can be used to reflect on philosopical issues and to thus see the world from a new perspective.
These new perspectives may be brought about through three approaches: First, through fictions that render possible worlds experienceable or show the existing world in a new way. Second, through models that serve as tools for understanding and mediation between the general and abstract and the concrete and particular. Third, through situations, simulations and re-enactments that facilitate a direct and bodily experience of a new perspective. These approaches can make abstract ideas experienceable, as they materialise these issues in concrete situations and thereby allow one to judge them in a real world context, including possible consequences. The activity of designing is accordingly considered an exploration of philosophical questions that uses design objects both as media for conducting an inquiry and communicating its outcome.
(Image: Pioneer Plaque, Designed by Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, 1972
© 20042018 Björn Franke