Truth and Method

In his 1960 book Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode), Hans Georg Gadamer argues for the existence of a historically effected consciousness (wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein) that essentially acts as a lens through which we perceive the world around us.  He wrote: “My real concern was and is philosophic: not what we do or what we ought to do, but what happens to us over and above our wanting and doing”

Using this theory as a foundation, I have moved into the concept of the specific biokinetic interface I am designing as being non-representational for the following reason:  if we are all a product of our environment, how can an interface be designed that supersedes the localised and national conditioning that we all possess?  How can an interface be as salient to a sheep herder in Khövsgöl Nuur, Mongolia, as a day trader in Sao Paolo?  What can define a common ground?

If we look at nearly all form there is associated meaning, even when the maker of the drawing or object hasn’t left any intentionally.  Indeed humans (and perhaps all animals) are attuned to unconsciously seek or place pattern in form.  Many theorists believing that this initially stems from survival: our predecessors – the survivors – had to make snap second decisions of when the movement in the grass was the face of a leopard, or the gentle wind.  We even have a term for the mapping of a face, or character, onto geological and other forms: apophenia.  This is universal: witness the man on the moon, but is the reaction we have to that face the same?

Obviously, a designer can use established (commonly agreed upon) forms to communicate user interface, such as an arrow for play, but these symbols generally come from historical precedent – in the case of the play symbol, magnetic tape which did have a direction.  But what happens if we abandon these representations?

This is the crux of the problem with creating an interface that is based upon a connotative rather than denotative approach: while it is relatively easy to cultivate and expand an emotional state (images of cute animals, or a man being mauled – or within object; the use of materials and form; semiotics), it is difficult to advance a uniform emotional understanding, and even more difficult to encourage an awareness of the logical semaphore that an interface must convey.

Perhaps a way forward is to look backwards?

To me the colour field paintings of the abstract expressionist painters, particularly those of Mark Rothko (maligned as he seems to be of late), offer a relatively modern glimpse of what we all have in common on a much deeper level: namely desolate land and seascapes.  Vast panoramas that can temporarily overwhelm in their grandeur; or allow us to engage in a smaller scale on an intimate level.  When we look at a painting by one of the abstract expressionists, many of us are able to experience deep internal dialogue that seems to bypass some of the denotative associative connections that representational paintings can elicit.  The simple colour fields seem to allow viewers to freely roam within an inner terrain, glimpsing ideas and alighting on thoughts – much as the act of completely listening to music can bring.

Additionally it is the ability to easy gravitate to any ‘focal’ length that distinguishes these paintings.  They could be part of the wall at a large party – present, but relegated to the visual and social periphery – or front and centre when the family is, dominating the attention.  This chameleon-like ability is extremely valuable for an artefact which must reside within many different physical environments, and in many different social spaces within those specific locales.

Returning to the metaphor of landscape and sea view – which is of course dominated by the sky, if we take a snapshot, we can ‘taste’ a feeling of that place then – the way the ocean is perturbed and the skies are dark.  However, when we view that ever-changing scene over time then we are able to infer consequence and meaning – the foreboding and darkening skies signal an incoming storm across the rising seas. Thus it is change (movement) over time that is important for communication of knowledge.

Perhaps a non-representational interface is possible if we use movement as the primary mode of communication?  A connotative interface would explore this tacit, unspoken, knowledge, allowing the user to infer, rather than be explicitly shown….




Leave a comment