The next speaker is Asok Abraham George from Volvo Trucks, where he is Chief Designer.

This offers a stark contrast in approach compared to the previous speaker: the use of presentation slides and the involvement of the audience with games is well rehearsed and really effective. As a result, it was a very agreeable show to follow, and at the same time suprising by its depth.

The first part of the presentation was questioning the difference between art and science. Going from an encyclopedic definition, the border is as thin as it gets. Actually, science’s first synonym listed there was none other than the word “Art”! Puzzling at best, confusing probably most of all…

Then the presenter engaged the audience by showing pictures, and asking to shout if it is art or science. An often enthusiastic but quiet crowd started playing, and -as the game requires- was intentionally misled by many pictures. Those often followed the following scheme:

1. Display little details at first (getting the answer “art”)

2. then zooming out to reveal it’s only a part of a car.

Only a handful of those examples were other things than cars: some architectural creations or manufactured objects. However, the point was conveyed: the border between art and science is especially thin in design, which somehow draws inspiration, methods and results from both worlds. I wonder also what kind of examples one can provide for the other way around: when art takes the coat of science. I remembered the condensation cube of Hans Haacke, which is a great exemple of science used in Art: the underlying physics phenomena of natural water condensation are “framed” into a glass cube.

Hans Haacke’s condensation cube

There, the more rigorous cubic shape seems to bring forth an idea of science. Still, mistaking art for science seems to take more than a picture to establish. Just showing a picture of this cube, as rigorously science based as it is, cannot really hint of this rigorous science unless the viewer knows him/herself the scientifical concepts at stake. And after all, isn’t it the same the other way around? Is appreciating art limited to a visual hunch? The concept of art as aesthetics vs science as rigid technical activity seemed to be the point here, and the reactions of the audience were really discording on some of the pictures.

Another inspirational piece of this dicussion was the idea of movement. The concept that some cars, when looked at statically are ugly. But the design goal is to have them move, in which case their appearance suits nicely the activity. However, that is a quite caricatural example, focusing on the appearance and aesthetics from outside (i.e. not directly to the driver).


He evoked also an interesting idea in the field of computing. He said the core of the technologies are quite old, but the latest developments are primarily focused on protecting it. I find it quite revealing in terms of reaction to change, more than in technical terms. Finding technological solutions to technological problems is a classical issue in design, and reminds me of some aspects of ubiquitous computing, which Adam Greenfield has wrote extensively about in his Everyware book.

Introducing some unnecessary technology in some ordinary life situations: once this happens, the tendency is to try to fix this technology rather than remove it or rethink it entirely. A technology-driven society has its limits and in particular when it comes to bringing change, it seems to carry some intrinsic biases. After studying for so many years in a technology-driven environment, which puts profit and innovation as core motivations, I find there can be very strong personal, perhaps largely unconscious incentives to drive the technological developments further and further.

Of course, social factors and real studies of the situation at hand are performed, sometimes in very minute details. How can we guarantee that the scope of studies is large enough, so as to *really* think outside the technological box? This very box is an extension of ourselves, as Michel Serres the French philosopher mentioned, which makes it very difficult to put aside.

Among other things, Serres studied extensively the development of technology, and conceptualised it in a refreshing and powerful way: he realised that many tools we invent as humans is an extension of some natural capacity of our body. For example, he imagined that a hammer, was nothing else than an external and higly improved clenched fist, and serves the purpose of bashing on something else. Obviously, those tools go away and away from the natural capacities of the human body, branch out and are refined ( a war club vs a sunday bricolage hammer for example ), but still they find their source in what we can do. So quite naturally, this applies to extensions of our brain: sound and video recording, writing are examples of extensions of our perceptual abilities and memory.

 

All this only hints of how deep the reliance on technology is on many levels. To name the prominent ones: conceptually, economically and culturally.