PD /

"A World of Things"

To start, I’d like to go outside the digital arts proper, and visit the (very) fascinating world of product design. Many of you create physical objects in third-perspective; sculptors, 3D printers, oil and acrylic painters, ceramicists. Those of you producing physical works face different challenges than digital designers, and exploring how viewers interact with your products - objects they can touch - is completely worth our discussion.

different packaged items Have you ever thought about “things?” The objects that make up our daily lives? Who made them, for what purpose? If you could re-make them, if you are making them, what do they look like, how do they work? What is your interaction with or reaction to these “things,” and does that change or adapt?

Before we get to making digital products, we should take a moment to look at the phsyical world around us, and how industrial design and product design has lead to the world we know today.


Explore: Standards of Design

“In 1904, a fire broke out in the basement of the John E. Hurst & Company Building in Baltimore. After taking hold of the entire structure, it leaped from building to building until it engulfed an 80-block area of the city. To help combat the flames, reinforcements from New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC immediately responded—but to no avail. Their fire hoses could not connect to the fire hydrants in Baltimore because they did not fit the hydrants in Baltimore. Forced to watch helplessly as the flames spread, the fire destroyed approximately 2,500 buildings and burned for more than 30 hours.”
- American National Standards Insititue

One of humankind’s greatest achievements is standardization, or a community’s agreement on a set of rules or regulations regarding systems. Money, measurements, and time are all socially- or scientifically-agreed upon constructs.

Why do we talk about it?

The Digital Age is a by-product of the creation of standards regarding computing development and languages. Many of you are familiar with web standards which govern the creation and proliferation of web languages, like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Through these standards, web designers have agreed on a set of best pracitices and design philopsophies that keep the web accessible across browsers, regions, and even the phsyical abilities of its users.

“What does this mean for me?”

You make products and experiences. These may be websites, digital art, interactive installations, video games, or films. Every “thing” you make has a story to tell. As we progress through the semester, we’ll look at design standards and philosophies, and how we can use them to better create these experiences and communicate with audiences.

Product and Industrial Design

Product design (PD) is the design of consumer products that considers usability, human factors, ergonomics, and appearance while still maintaining function. Industrial design (ID) is very similar, but is most often used to describe large-scale (industry) manufacturing.

Before we return to strictly digital applications, I want to consider the relationship with have with “stuff” - the things we use every day and often forget that somebody, somewhere, designed them for us to use. How, maybe in a hidden way, they’ve shaped the way we live our lives.

Have you considered what your design philosophy is?

Since it will come up in the viewing area, let’s consider Apple’s:


Viewing: Objectified, Dir. Gary Hustwit (2009)

Objectified is a feature-length documentary about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. It’s a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. It’s about the designers who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. It’s about personal expression, identity, consumerism, and sustainability.

"A big definition of who you are as a designer is the way you look at the world."
- Jonathan Ive, Senior VP Industrial Design at Apple

Through vérité footage and in-depth conversations, the film documents the creative processes of some of the world’s most influential product designers, and looks at how the things they make impact our lives. What can we learn about who we are, and who we want to be, from the objects with which we surround ourselves?

Please watch the film for this Topic’s Group Think. Consider the age we live in, the products we use, and the way we form relationships or detachments to their design.


Lab: None

There is no lab for this topic.


Project: Usability and U

There is no project for this topic.