Reading Response #3:
to Artful Design • Chapter 3: Visual Design

Noah B.
Music 256A

I appreciate the idea of “multi-modal design” presented in this chapter – design that embraces multi-sensory, dynamic, artistic, and functional aspects. Unlike the design of objects in the physical world, which intrinsically present themselves to all the senses (although not all designs consider every sense!), digital design has to do some “extra work” to give the impression of physicality. The digital designer is working within relatively severe limits, striving to appeal to the basic physical and aural intuition of their listener. Despite lacking texture or presence/mass, I can think of innumerable examples of inventive, highly physical designs/organic designs across the softwares that I have interacted with throughout my life. The illusion of motion seems to be essential to the notion of physicality – motion can imply so much character and expressiveness to inanimate objects. 

I’m fascinated by the unique affordances of digital design. Once unbound by physical constraints, there is so much more one can do than recreate or aspire towards the physicality of the natural world. From personal experience, it seems that taking a real-life example and extrapolating into the imaginary can often be quite productive. Ocarina, for example, is quite abstract – it’s not mimicking anything – but it’s certainly suggestive of things like jellyfish, underwater lifeforms, bioluminescence, and other pulsing, glowing, flowing lifeforms. This abstraction from the familiar makes the interaction feel at once natural and totally new. 

 I do love the emphasis on organic design, but would like to trouble the notion slightly.  Perhaps organic design in a digital context is not always desirable, and like anything, can be overdone or become cliché. I can imagine equally viable approaches,  from a design standpoint, that embrace or even emphasize the limits of the medium rather than try to transcend or extend them. We might say that digital design favors grids and straight lines, static forms, rapid transitions, bright colors, perfect repetition, precision, and two-dimensionality. I think about the aesthetics of the early Internet, and the recent revival (seemingly) of early 2000s software GUIs and blog-like websites, which intentionally limit functionality or resolution in favor of the aesthetics of nostalgia. I also think of a musical genre like techno. Emerging from factory-dominated Detroit, techno was born as a part of a subculture that embraced the aesthetics of the machine and relentless, perfect repetition, repurposed into an aesthetic of escape, release, community, and joy. Considering who is “expressing” the design and the context of its creation can add an extremely subtle yet powerful dimension with the potential to flip the philosophical/aesthetic face-value of a design on its head.

P.S. Was not aware this was a thing: