Designing the Performative Object: a study in designing mindful interaction through artefacts
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This thesis investigates the potential of design to intentionally mediate social interaction in ethical (mindful) ways. The subject of the study has evolved from observations and reflections on my own practice. In using the drinking vessel to explore the mediation of human face-to-face interaction through the artefact, the question arose whether some objects can influence interaction more actively than others. In particular, the question was whether and how an artefact can stimulate the user's behaviour by means of its function, and whether this stimulation can cause mindful reflection and interaction. The aim was to understand better the characteristics of this kind of object, of their impact and design, and whether they could be useful as a wider concept for design (Buchanan 2001). In the course of the study, I have developed the concept of the performative object (PO) to describe objects with these qualities of interaction. At the core of the study is a concern with identifying the PO as a separate category of definable design objects. This is under the recognition that the PO has not hitherto been recognised as a separate category and therefore it has not yet been put to its full potential use. The activity of proposing the PO as a new category determines the study as a naming and classification study (Fawcett 1999). This means, first, it is necessary to find out what POs are by defining their characteristics. Second, it is necessary to distinguish POs from other categories of objects in order to show their originality. And third, it is useful to try to assess the benefits of proposing this new category. Consequently, this thesis offers the concept development and testing of the category of PO. The concept development is used to define the concepts of mindfulness and function in the context of interaction as the main characteristics of the PO. The concept of mindfulness (Langer 1989; Udall 1996) is taken to refer to the attentiveness of the user towards the social consequences of the action performed with the object. The concept of interaction as used in this study unites concepts of human-object-interaction from Material Culture (Miller 1987; Pearce 1994 and 1995) and of social interaction from Sociology (Goffman 1967; Mead I Morris 19671) in order to accommodate the understanding of human-object-human-interaction as a triangular relationship in the context of design. The testing is conducted through the conceptual and comparative analysis of examples with regard to examining the probability and originality of the concept of Po. While the comparison is theoretical in its nature, the theoretical development of the conceptual analysis is complemented by an element of practice. The practice is used to explore the potential of function to cause mindfulness in order to develop an understanding of the characteristics of POs and to provide further evidence in terms of examples. The drinking vessel is chosen as a focus of investigation due to its distinct position within social interaction; however it is complemented by selected examples from product and interaction design in order to indicate the wider significance of the concept. The outcome and contribution of this thesis is that we can identify artefacts with certain characteristics of mindfulness and function as performative objects (POs) and that we can distinguish them as a separate category of definable design objects. In reflection on the usefulness of the proposed concept, I argue that the benefit of recognising the category of performative objects will give designers more scope to utilise the social and cultural potential of design, and to create mindfulness.
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