The Next Big Thing Is Not A Thing (2016)

Publication for the exhibition The Next Big Thing Is Not A Thing, 03/2016, 1000copies, 96 pages

Publication THE NEXT BIG THING IS NOT A THING, Surveying the Design Discipline

A project initiated by Bureau Europa
Platform for Design and Architecture, Maastricht, The Netherlands,

Derived from the Design Anthropology research and publication by Yana Milev

Participating artists and designers:
Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Roger Ballen and Die Antwoord, The Yes Men, Forensic Architecture, Artur Beifuss, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, AO Clouds, Ines Doujak and John Barker, Dries Depoorter, Geert Mul, Emma Charles, Julien Prévieux, Jasper Morrison, Marc Bijl, Studio Formafantasma for Droog Design, Susanna Hertrich, Dave Hakkens, Fabrice Monteiro, Jan Rothuizen, James Bridle, Liam Young, Monobanda and DUS, Theo Deutinger, Pierre Bourdieu, Uli Aigner, Studio Drift, Zach Blas, Eline Van Der Ploeg, TeYosh, Atelier NL, Ruben Pater and Jaap van Heusden, Jalila Essaïdi, Manon van Hoeckel, Massoud Hassani, Ingrid Burrington, SchilderScholte Architects, Re-Do Studio, Safecast, Lalage Snow, Dirk Van der Kooij, Alicia Ongay-Perez, Cucula, Eli Noyes, Philippe Starck, Maarten Baas, ScanLAB, Gudrun F. Widlok, and Adbusters

Exhibition Curator: Pauline Doutreluingne
Exhibition Team: Pauline Doutreluingne, Agata Jaworska, Yana Milev, Niels Schrader and Saskia van Stein
Symposium: Yana Milev and Stefan Meuleman
Graphic Design: Mind Design
Project Assistant: Ilona van den Brekel
Translation: Nine Yamamoto-Masson, Guus van Engelshoven, Tom Kenis, Christopher Langer, and Jason Coburn
Copyediting: Jason Coburn and Joyce Larue

We kindly like to thank also Martin Hager, Livia Tarsia in Curia and Agnes Paulissen

This exhibition is generously supported by the Creative Industries Fund NL

ISBN: 978-94-6228-761-7

You can download the full publication here.

Extract from of the publication:

Chapter 1: The Designer’s Perspective

This exhibition takes a closer look at the design research that lays the groundwork for each design process, and it approaches design as a trans-disciplinary domain.

In recent years, designers have been inspired by the history and methodology of the social sciences but also by biology or economics. Similar to the science of anthropology, which uses a variety of research methods, the design discipline includes a series of approaches to initiate the design process. Firstly, it concerns a way of looking – the subject and object. In the traditional practice of cultural anthropology, an anthropologist always looks at a topic from an emic and an etic perspective. Etic represents the external perspective: how an outsider views a particular reality. Etic elements are things that occur in all cultures: they are universal phenomena (power relations). Emic represents the perspective from the inside, how someone from a particular (sub) culture experiences it from within.
An anthropologist is trained to get to know and understand a culture internally, in order to visualise and translate it into the language and the frame of reference of someone who is not internally familiar with this culture.

The design process is neither a predictable nor an easily navigable process. Through taking a multitude of perspectives into account, this process is deepened and gives designers a wider and more creative view of their field or work. Knowledge development and critical reflection are essential for every designer. Our worldview is increasingly put into doubt, and longstanding, self-evident ideologies are now considered as short-term thinking and as an out-dated perception of society. By zooming in on the elementary particles of an extended concept of design, the design discipline is examined in an innovative way.

Yana Milev’s research and publication Design Anthropology, which serves as a starting point for this exhibition, shows that the design concept is based on three fundamental pillars: Mythus, Segno, and Techne.

Anthropological design research is transdisciplinary and develops through the connection between
• Visual Culture – signal, visibility/invisibility, image/emptiness, imagination, and representation
• Doing Culture – act, cooperation, relationship, exchange
• Material Culture – object, artefact, thing, texture
• Knowledge Culture – techniques, practices, norms, beliefs
• Narrative Culture – mythology, meaning, memory, identity
• Critical Culture – criteria for looking, antagonism, theory
• Aesthetic Culture – emotion, sentiment, taste

Chapter 2: Designing Myths and Symbols

It was not so long ago that the application of Darwin’s theory of evolution to human culture seemed self-evident. Western civilization was seen as the furthest developed, and all other cultures, such as African, Asian, or any foreign indigenous culture, were seen as a subordinate on the evolutionary ladder. Terms such as ‘Third’ World countries or developing nations indicate that some countries need to catch up with economic development in order to participate in the main discourse.

Since the advent of globalisation and medialisation, the world appears to be smaller; moreover, time and space have become both singular and multiple. Prevailing ideologies are stagnating, and with the rise of the BRIC nations, Western dominance is diminishing. Modernism long reigned as the dominant ideology under the motto of ‘doing good’. Through the pernicious belief in the application of a makeable world and the hope that technological developments brought, it was assumed there was a fitting solution to any problem. Also, the design discipline is influenced by the modernist discourse, with the adage that the idea of progress makes the world a ‘better’ place. But what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ design? Is design successful because it is sold and has aesthetic and psychological value?
What are the myths about the roles and responsibilities of the design sector?

Symbols belong – knowingly and often unknowingly – to human communication possibilities. Due to the growth and acceleration of increasingly hybrid and intercultural communication possibilities, original meanings are often lost, or new meanings arise. The phenomenon of applying ‘meaning’ is uniquely human. It will be interesting if we can relinquish control of this application to nature and technology.

Chapter 3: Designing Techne

The traditional division between episteme (the domain of theory or knowledge) and techne (the material and practical application of art and craft) still determines our thinking and divides the humanities from the natural sciences, the intellectuals from the engineers, and our mind from our hands. The design discipline circumnavigates this division, weaving theory to the pragmatic, thus connecting cultural techniques and achievements to theories of knowledge, craft, and the virtual/artificial world.
The works in this exhibition explore how the hand and head are related.
In Richard Sennett’s book, The Craftsman (2008), he addresses the thinking and performing hand. ‘Every good craftsman conducts a dialogue between concrete practices and thinking’, he writes. ‘All the skills, even the most abstract, begin as a bodily practice.’
Artists and designers speculate and experiment between art and science with technological innovations that expand the limits of our human potential. The autonomy of these technological innovations is now so far developed that the human as authority is increasingly diminished.

Chapter 4: The Changing Attitudes and Role of the Designer/Anthropologist

Since industrialisation and the Arts and Crafts movement in the second half of the nineteenth century, the question concerning design’s function and role became a topic of discussion. Design as a cultural phenomenon is a relatively recent development. An emancipation of design and its related discourse is currently taking place. Today, the designer/anthropologist occupies a modest position, continuously gathering new information and learning from other people’s mistakes.
The design discipline is increasingly related to other domains, such as ecology, anthropology, politics, architecture, journalism, government, and warfare, and it outlines possible future scenarios. It is an attitude that connects people to the world around them in innovative ways.

Designing Environments (From the Blue Planet to Google Earth)

The fundamental attitude of the designer has changed: originally, the designer would serve the future user through the ‘illusion’ of comfort, convenience, and luxury. Subsequently, there was a shift to ‘serving the environment and society’. The designer and design philosopher Victor Papanek wrote about the latter in 1971 in his book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. Never before was this theme so topical.
At the same time, a dent has emerged in the expectations it created. Is the designer able to offer a ready-made solution to the world’s big problems?
All design in itself wants to be complete and, therefore, be a symbol of unity and perfection. Imperfection would be a sign of decay. But perhaps it is these imperfections that lead us, through trial and error, to create new insights into our thoughts and actions. In the contemporary Dutch design landscape, there is a strong desire to make technical imperfection the subject of design.

Designing Political Power and Warfare

Progressively more designers are focusing their research on the superstructures of contemporary society. Each structure is a design, and structures of political and economic power, nation states, warfare, and information networks are undoubtedly included.
Designers analyse political, military, and economic issues and visualise the underlying relationships and structures, which allows today’s designer to focus on social emancipation, freedom of information, public transparency, and political change. In our present-day, smartphone networked society, the designer also takes on the role of mediator. More than a channel for communication and information, the medium is a way of life. ‘The medium is the message’, as Marshall McLuhan already concluded in 1964. But the medium is not just the packaging. The society of the medium is our milieu. Without us realising it, design is omnipresent.

Designing Future Scenarios and Survival

With all this accumulated knowledge, are we still able to design new scenarios for a sustainable society? The potential of creativity that has an increasing understanding of complex power relations is growing. Via an open-source politics, innovative instruments are made available to the citizen and offer us protection against the latent dangers heading our way. Whether we trust in all of these technological innovations is the question we ask, and we look forward to a stimulating dialogue on this subject.

Pauline Doutreluingne