What Can Derrida Teach Us About Design?

May 23rd, 2011 from The Driblet of an Aphorism



If you are unfamiliar with who Derrida was, I'd heavily encourage you to at least dedicate a Twitterish amount of time to informing yourself.

Traditionally associated with postmodern thought, Jacques Derrida's work, as is true to the method he fleshed out to circumvent easy labeling, spans massive models and supersedes trivial classifications.

His work is as useful as it is destabilizing.
"One of the definitions of what is called deconstruction would be the effort to take this limitless context into account, to pay the sharpest and broadest attention possible to context, and thus to an incessant movement of recontextualization." -- Jacques Derrida on Deconstruction.
From Powerful Thought to Powerful Design

How does context influence design? When we make what appear simple and trivial decisions, are we not also forwarding a fabricated model? What innovation can we find by analyzing such models and focusing on the context of a given piece?

Sadly, too often in Libre it seems people are willing to supplant that context for universality and absolutes. "User" has supplanted a real person, and "usability" has become the chic wardrobe moniker for a naked emperor.

Bill Buxton most eloquently outlines the above ignorance of context in his book Sketching User Experiences. He relates an interesting design problem via navigating in a kayak.

Do you choose a paper chart? A GPS enabled device? A laptop? The image in the header offers us a glimpse of contextual design:
"[...]a third approach, one that the Inuit have used. [...] Tactile maps of the coastline, carved out of wood. They can be carried inside your mittens, so your hands stay warm. They have infinite battery life, and can be read, even in the six months of the year that it is dark. And, if they are accidentally dropped into the water, they float. What you and I might see as a stick, for the Inuit can be an elegant design solution that is appropriate for their particular environment." -- Bill Buxton, Sketching User Experiences, pg 37.

A Warning in Closing

I will close this posting with a thought that seems fitting while obsessing over numerical averages and a desire for standardization of the human:

"In the course of evolution nature has gone to endless trouble to see that every individual is unlike every other individual. We reproduce our kind by bringing the father's genes into contact with the mother's. These hereditary factors may be combined in an al­most infinite number of ways. Physically and mentally, each one of us is unique. Any culture which, in the interests of efficiency or in the name of some political or religious dogma, seeks to standardize the human individual, commits an outrage against man's biological nature." -- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited.

Thank you all for reading.

Original image sourced from Deconcrete.