Katherine C.

Sunday, Oct 16, 2022

Music 256A / CS476A, Stanford University

Word count: 415

Reading Response to Artful Design Chapter 3

From this week's reading, I'd like to respond to Artful Design Principle 3.14, which states:

Principle 3.14: “Savor strange design loops” (p. 121).

– where strange design loops refers to the construction of “feedback and recursive connections between elements,” and blurring the “distinction between medium and message using some intrinsic property of the design.” (p. 121).

The term “strange design loops” was pretty fascinating to me. Previously, I thought of good design as creating sound, graphics, and interaction that could be described as beautiful, sleek, innovative, unobtrusive, etc. – but I definitely would not have described it as “strange.” But on second thought, I realized that strangeness could have beauty in itself, such as in the zipper monster pencil case, because strange recursive connections and blurring the distinction between medium and message could evoke curiosity and feelings of wonder in someone (here, we see a connection to Principle 3.12: “Aesthetics. Make me feel somethin’!”).

In addition, I’d like to make a connection between this principle and estrangement theory (something I learned from the ITALIC program at Stanford), also called defamiliarization or ostranenie, which is defined as the artistic technique of “presenting familiar objects or situations in an unfamiliar way, prolonging the perceptive process and allowing for a fresh perspective” – Dictionary.com. I feel like this principle echoes estrangement theory really well, and the examples of strange design loops presented in the textbook (e.g., the penrose triangle and stairs, as well as M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hand and Ascending and Descending) remind me of art movements of ostranenie like dadaism.

I would also like to comment more specifically on the textbook’s reference to ideas related to the uncanny, such as “self-reference, self-reflexivity, feedback, recursion, paradox” and being “mind-boggling and meta” (p. 138). It’s interesting to me how the uncanny can be used as a tool to close the gap between function and form, between medium and message. But now I also wonder if strange design loops are the only way to close this gap. Does there exist another way to make a leap to close the aforementioned gap, perhaps one that is not as aesthetic? Is the gap actually closed, or is it just perceived to be closed (i.e., an illusion)?

Finally, I would like to ask an overarching question to this principle: Strange design loops can create uncanny feelings and may make the user feel weird or uncomfortable. Is a design created with the intention of making people feel uncomfortable good (or more specifically, ethically right)?