Chapter 1 Reading Response

In Chapter 1, the continued emphasis placed on the duality (or two-pronged nature) of design was particularly interesting to me. By “duality”, I mean to say that in all of the working definitions of design that the book presents, two delineating themes were always present: means vs. ends, function vs. form, pragmatics vs. aesthetics, and ultimately, engineering vs. art. First, this emphasizes that engineering = pragmatics = means = function, which are completely distinct from and in direct contrast to art = aesthetics = ends = form. This makes intuitive sense to me, and for most of my life I’ve accepted the notion that engineering and art are incompatible endeavors as a given. For me, it’s always been “become a career engineer first and do the music thing on the side”.

In spite of this rigid distinction between engineering and pure art though, the book states that it is precisely at the intersection of these two disciplines when greater meaning is produced; this synthesis, as the book defines, represents “artful design” - a worthwhile experience in and of itself. To me, this definition of design as a duality between pragmatics and aesthetics is interesting as a result of this consequence, especially since this is the first time I’ve heard design defined in such a way. Rather, all previous definitions of design that I’ve stumbled upon tend to treat it more as some vaguely formalized methodology or generic tool of sorts, and in this sense, an engineer designing a circuit would involve an entirely different thought process than a graphic designer creating a movie poster. However, by treating artful design as its own field of study - specifically one that bridges the gap between engineering and pure arts - the two previously mentioned thought processes can be seen to merge into one singular entity. Just as an engineer can learn to design a circuit with elegance and perhaps even an underlying humanistic beauty, a graphic designer could greatly benefit from a careful consideration of function and pragmatics.

To me, this definition carries a lot of appeal primarily because it implies that engineering and pure art are not incompatible endeavors. Perhaps the ideal designer today would be someone well-versed in both technology and aesthetics, and one might reasonably speculate that a whole school of design might emerge (or is already emerging?) out of this philosophy, making interdisciplinary departments such as CCRMA the standard instead of a novelty.

Design Etude

Cat Lamp:

At first glance, the cat lamp appears to be a cute stuffed animal or stress ball of sorts. However, upon lightly punching it, the cat lamp will transform into a reliable, colorful desk light. While having a light (function) in the form of a stress toy (form) seems to be uncorrelated at first glance, from a pragmatic point of view, this actually lends the object a more comforting presence during stressful late night homework grinds - which are often what desk lights are used for. Furthermore, I would argue that in this case, there is a beauty and satisfaction to the cat form itself, regardless of how it augments the desk lamp function, because cats make everything better.

Nintendo Switch

To me, the Nintendo Switch game console is a masterclass in multipurpose, versatile design. The premise for the Switch's design is that it should be able to function effectively as both a portable / handheld and at-home / traditional gaming console, and I believe it accomplishes this task beautifully. The key lies in the lightweight and modular nature of the form, which clearly pays careful attention to the function. I would say that most of the appeal lies in the sheer elegance in how perfectly the form suits the function (means to an end), but there also exists an inherent beauty in how the Switch manages to accomplish such a complex task with such minimalism (end in itself).

Ratchet Basketball Hoop

Ignoring the ratchet makeshift tape fixing the backboard to the wall, I find this mini basketball hoop's design to be satisfying at a fundamental level. Something about it pays homage to childhood days of chucking crumbled paper balls into trash cans and other classroom antics - all the while maintaining a clean, professional feel, with a geometric background pattern that distinguishes it from ordinary basketball hoops. Of course, practically, this basketball hoop was likely designed to be inexpensive, and thus I believe it represents a convincing case study of effective design within constraints.

Guerrilla Design

This week, I decided to decorate my computing probability PSET with witty, cartoon-style drawings related to the problems. While this certainly seems silly and extra, upon some thought, I imagine that in doing so, the drawings may reasonably render my PSET more engaging for the grader without distracting from the clarity of the solution itself. Furthermore, in some sense, valuing my homework as an art canvas may even implicitly encourage me to put forth a more committed effort into actually solving the problems.

ChucK file