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Thursday, October 30, 2003

What is an art?

We started the third part of Design Seminar yesterday. This part has to do with the Arts, Methods, and Techniques of Interaction Design. Dick began with asking What is an art? and giving us his definition:

An art is a habit of thinking, doing, or making that demonstrates systematic discipline based on principles.

An art is not random behavior; it is orderly and has connected concepts. It is a habit: done often and often unconsciously. They can be treated as subject matters to be studied themselves, but the art must be acquired as a habit, so that its practitioners become "unconsciously competent." Typically, all three of the actions of an art (thinking, doing, and making) go together.

Most arts have subject matter (the Art of Archery has archery as its subject, for example), a nature of working, and a goal. Design, however, is an art that has no subject matter. Designers make their own subject matter, or are given it. We tend to treat subject matter too seriously. It prevents us from seeing the art.

Skill in an art is acquired in three ways: natural genius, imitating people who do it very well, or formal schooling to learn principles and practice. Graduate school is typically about this last way.

Arts are based on principles, whether the practitioner know them or not. An art is not just a series or procedures or methods. There can be many methods inside an art. Art gives strategic purpose to methods.

Arts are about connections, how we connect things. Understanding the connections between things allows designers to accomplish their goals. Great problems arise when we aren't abel to make connections. We call these connections themes.

Two examples of arts are archery and chariot steering, both of which, strangely enough, still having meaning for us in design. Archery is about never losing sight of the goal while designing. Chariot steering is about knowing how to get the group to where it needs to go. Strategic planning, in other words.

There are four essential arts in Western culture:

  • Rhetoric is about persuading people by discovering an argument that moves them.
  • Grammar is about constructing an interpreting meaning.
  • Poetics is about making necessary connections among elements that lead to an organic conclusion.
  • Dialectic is about discovering truth from the opinions of people.

These four arts are the threads of culture. Innovations happen when one of these arts crosses into another.

Dialectic is common in the Far East, South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe, but not so much in the US. Early in the 20th century, grammar and poetics held great sway in the West, but then in the last 60 years, rhetoric has emerged as the central intellectual art.

Poetics is concerned with what is necessary, with logic. What must follow as a result of a set of contitions. Rhetoric is concerned with what is possible. Grammar is about definitions and working against contingencies. And Dialectic works against impossibility.

Both tradition and innovation are focused around arts. The ability to use the arts in new ways to change the way people think is what interaction design is.

posted at 09:29 AM in design theory | comments (3) | trackback (0)


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