Björn Franke

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Design as Inquiry: Exploring Design as a Philosophical Medium, 2007 (ongoing)

Design is mainly understood as an activity of producing useful artefacts—whether mass produces, prototypical or conceptual—rather than as an activity of inquiry. Investigation in design, it seems, is often limited to the observation of humans or the experimentation with materials with the aim to produce more refined design objects that fulfil every possible need. Objects which do not serve needs, solve problems or cannot be used almost seem frivolous in design and are often considered as art objects. This study, however, is not concerned with art objects but with design objects as objects for contemplation and with design as a form of philosophical inquiry.

This form of inquiry, however, is understood as a reflection on the human condition rather than a search for truth. Design is not concerned with finding truth but possibilities. It deals with matters of concern rather than matters of fact, with the human perspective on the world rather facts about the world. Design as inquiry is an exploration of the present and possible conditions for human existence in a technologically mediated world. The aim is not to produce design objects for use but objects which increase our understanding of the human condition in a world of technological artefacts.

Therefore, design objects need to be able to enhance our ability to reflect and need to be able to create knowledge. Since design objects are affective and not explanatory, this cannot be achieved by means of arguments but by showing a perspective on the possible ways of existence. Since we naturally understand the world through interacting with artefacts, design objects may enable us to understand these matters more immediately than abstract theories. The task of design as inquiry is then to produce design objects which allow us to experience the human condition in the technological landscape in a reflective way.

The aim of this study is therefore to evaluate, to which extend design can be used as a medium for a philosophical inquiry, what kind of knowledge such an inquiry can generate and how this knowledge differs from that of other forms of inquiry. The overall aim is to theorise design objects as media for reflection and design as a material philosophy. (Image: Pioneer Plaque, Designed by Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, 1972)


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