New Field Topic: Dr. Stephen Thompson; ‘Surprise Me!’…

Today I started my second Field Module; ‘Surprise Me’ led by Dr. Stephen Thompson. The lecture started with him, and Theo Humphries, discussing the structure of the module, highlighting that there are no real limitations to the project, no definite deliverables, and no learning outcomes. The desire to see students taking risks and seeking to ‘subvert, invert and pervert’ their project orthodoxies came across strongly.

They then moved on to talk about several themes we might consider before undertaking the project:

– The ‘Gettier Problem’, which highlights the need to question what is assumed to be true, with the issue of whether ‘justified true belief’ should really be taken as knowledge. In the context of design, this shows that we should question the orthodoxies of the design process and the themes and outcomes of current, and past product design. Just because these approaches are being used now, and have been for some time, does not mean they are necessarily the most effective.

– The theories of Judee Burgoon in 1970, who suggested that the communication of knowledge depends on three factors; the communicator, the relationship between the communicator and the receiver, the context. In the case of art and design, the communicator could represent the confidence and depth of the designer or artist, the relationship between communicator and receiver could be the immersion in the engagement, and the context would be the subject, in my case Product Design.

– The philosophy of Derrida (in simplest terms), his deconstructionist theories on the analysis of texts and the application of that to art and design. Here Derrida’s idea that all work is open to analysis and that there is no truth, but only interpretation, has a number of applications in design, not least to remember that all products are interpreted differently depending on the approach of the user, and their analysis of the product.

– The deconstruction of ‘Epistemes’ and the prevalence of them in life. Part of this exercise was to consider how the term ‘Technology’ relates to a butterfly, and why terms such as ‘Technology’ and ‘Nature’ have been produced, and coexist when they seemingly can be described with the same ideas, roots and results. The idea of epistemes shows how easy it is to undo a concept by questioning the assumptions of it.

– The concept of ‘Quora’ as an approach to looking deeper and deeper into a subject in order to find its very roots, and then apply them. this may include finding the patterns or algorithms laced deep within subjects. An example of Quora can be seen in the design of the Jewish Museum, in Berlin, where the structure is based on the relationship of the homes of the Holocaust victims relative to the site of the museum.

– The ideas of Stuart Hameroff on subversive reality. This concept seemed to me to be the most unusual (or even outrageous) concept of all those discussed. It comes from the idea that we constantly live within a consensual reality. In the case of a lecture, the lecturer generated the lecture theatre in their own conciousnesses, and then we consent to it upon entering his or her consciousness.

– The concept of ‘Delimitation’, which simply is to analyse where you put limitations on your own practice and then remove them. In the case of Product Design, this might be a limitation in material, the formalities of the design process, approaches to research processes, and desired outcomes, to name just a few.

We participated in an exercise during the lecture by working in small groups to use the following system to invert the orthodoxies of our practice: 1) Recognise the orthodoxy. 2) Invert it or change it. 3) Analyse why this inversion might be beneficial, and why it might not be.

We finished the lecture by discussing the term ‘Surprise’. Dr. Thompson made it quite clear that surprise did not mean ‘shock’, which has more shallow and hollow traits. I think the best way to sum up what is desired by the term ‘Surprise’ is: to make something which makes observers think; ‘why has it not always been done like that’. I questioned whether it was possible to make a piece of design aesthetically surprising without it moving into the realms of being art, a point which Dr. Stephen Thompson remarked was “very interesting.” and encouraged me to investigate.



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