Reading Response 3 / Sebastian Ruhl

Imagine designing an application. If you really go into it, you have to do a lot of programming to get a certain level of depth into it. But when you are finished, the only thing the user experiences is the interface that lays on top of it all the hard work you did. By going back into the code and changing the variables, you change the whole app. Everything that we see and experience what we is directly influenced by the meta that lays underneath. That’s the dark matter.

Talking about dark matter in the context of design, we talk about the things that are not visual at first but influence the outcome. It’s all about the context, the environment where our product or service is taking place. The core of dark matter is the understanding of the complex structure that is behind every design. I mean most of the designers are all about the shiny end because that’s what sells at the end. But if we really want our products to be as useful as possible, we need to dig deeper into the matter.

In the End, we are designing for people. And that doesn’t mean it as to be as fancy as possible. It has to be valuable. Again, value is not connected with the pricing. Value comes when you actually think about peoples needs. Where do they live? What is their life about and what do they really need.

As designers, we can have a direct influence on that. But creating something that is a symbiosis between the meta end the matter, one has to be able to understand complex policies and environments and has to figure how to communicate it. As I sad the dark matter is nothing we can see it’s something you have to figure out. In my opinion it’s really important to make this kind of thoughts because only by rethinking stuff you can truly re-design it.

Another interesting thought is the concept of the greater context. Peter Behrens, a German Industrial Designer, designed a house as part of the ,,Damstädter Künstlerkolonie” (Art community) where he designed everything from the products, to the interior over to the architecture. He thought about everything in it’s context so it all matched together and created this so called synthesis of arts.

Finally I want to say, everything has to be turned and watched from another perspective. There are problems everywhere and stuff’s getting complex so we really should be aware that we can make a change if we want to.



schwarz-weifl-Scan aus:
Ein Dokument deutscher Kunst. Die Ausstellung der K¸nstler-Kolonie in Darmstadt 1901. Festschrift. M‹nchen: Bruckmann, 1901.
[Exemplar in der Staatsbibliothek Berlin]

Reading Discussion 3 / Maeve Morris

Discussing dark matter and strategic design puts words to something we already know as designers but aren’t being actively trained in as our basic curriculum in school. Understanding the context or “meta” (pg 45) and the way it impacts our design is something we take into consideration, but often not as intentionally since our personal tastes and ideas largely influence the outcome. In the fashion program at DAAP, I’m taught over two semester courses (so far) how to research, understand, anticipate, and trends that are influenced by our societies’ and world’s meta. Following, I try to design garments based off that research but whether the outcome is only inspired by the research or rather really driven by it is usually dependent on whether I’m compelled by my own perception of what would be successful or the duty to please the needs of someone besides my own satisfaction in the final product.

I don’t feel confident that my education in trend research truly let me understand and know how to research the dark matter of my industry and the complete world that is impacted by my professional actions as a designer—the apparel industry is just beginning to be conscious of practices in their own organizations and manufacturing partners that are ethically disgusting but have been so established as a normality that our society at large knows its existence and doesn’t value it over their personal cost. We had a single class period in Fashion History II to learn and talk about the realities of production in other countries and under major brands that we grew up wearing and knowing—an hour and twenty minutes to cover the way that the American garment business has been built on slavery, and understanding the lives undervalued and even lost because of it. If we’re characteristically able to choose ignorance to this so easily, how do we really see ourselves being conscious of and intentional about the dark matter? Is it different because the dark matter is something which influences our end of the design process, and our profits?

The dark matter of strategic designers is listed by Dan Hall as “organizational culture, policy environments, market mechanisms, legislation, finance models/other incentives, governance structures, tradition and habits, local culture, national identity, the habitats, situations and events that decisions are produced within.” (pg 83)

I see organizations and brands that have been huge empires built over two to ten decades time beginning to misunderstand how to compete in today’s market—with the younger generations understanding that they want something different from their products: conscious of environmental, social and cultural responsibility (or at least, they can settle for the illusion of it) dark matter need not only be more heavily considered and comprehended, but the brand itself needs to be reborn. Strategic designers can’t just propose prototype artifacts, but redesign the organization, systems and cultures that would, upon reinvention, bring systematic change. (pg 85) While companies like Outdoor Voices, created recently and initially in the light of today’s market, culture, incentives, habits, national identity and influences, have an advantage in reflecting current dark matter, brands established on older traditions and influences habitually feed on that culture and instead spend new energy only on further profit or singularly innovating their product. Upon looking at who else was talking about strategic design, I found sources like the Lisbon Strategic Design & Innovation convention to advertise the school of thought with goals like “differentiation and competitive advantage” and “helping people in organizations improve the way they face uncertain and turbulent contexts”.

Without a complete change in thinking, culture, system and way of thinking, goods and services fail to really create change and newness since “productions have their attendant bureaucracy embedded within them. (pg 95) Or as put by Dan Hill, “One could attempt to shunt and pull the ship with a floatilla of tug boats until it stops resisting and is knocked off course, but it’s far better to be in the ship’s bridge with your hand of the tiller”. (pg 96)

Reading Response 3 · Akshat Srivastava

Dark matter in design is the invisible context surrounding an artifact, perceptible only through its implications on what is contained within. It is an extremely compelling bit of nomenclature that can be utilized to strategically design our way out of the plethora of wicked problems we face today. Strategic design’s role is to uncover and engage with this dark matter, which typically takes the form of organizational culture, business models, and legislation, among a variety of other ‘dark elements’.

Hill’s case study of the Renew Newcastle project serves as compelling evidence to the efficacy of well-implemented strategic design. Marcus Westbury and a group of friends manipulated their way around the dark matter, the ‘soft infrastructure’ of central Newcastle and figured out a way to revamp the city center without any architectural restructuring. It was through bureaucracy alone that they achieved this, setting up a great example of strategic design done right (ironically by non-designers).

One great contemporary example of an almost-ubiquitous product designed with dark matter in mind is Slack. In fact, Slack takes it one step further and tries to address, to a varying degree of success, a multitude of separate, unique dark matters through one solution. It tries to address the wicked issue of clunky communication standards (i.e. email, primarily) within organizations, and it does so with one single product. One single solution that has successfully embedded itself into a massive number of organizations at all levels, each with their own unique issues around communication. It scales across different kinds of business models and cultures. I remember using it to communicate with members of the technology club I used to lead in high school in its early days, and even back then we were blown away by just how perfect it was for us. At the same time, I also remember using it to communicate and collaborate with my colleagues at Enjoy, a fast-growing startup based in Menlo Park where I interned over the summer. And to fulfill Hill’s requirement of symbiosis between the matter and the meta, the team constantly learns from user feedback and analytics data in order to keep pushing the product one step closer to being the ideal fit for all the organizations they serve simultaneously.

Having named and understood the methodologies that lead to such successes, I am excited to see where we take this discussion moving forward, and how it influences the projects we work on. In relation to our recent discussion on the ongoing free fall of Capitalism, one of the quotes that struck me the most in this reading was by David Korowicz, who says, “…governments do not control their own economies. Nor does civil societies. The corporate or financial sectors do not control the economies within which they operate. That they can destroy the economy should not be taken as evidence that they can control it.” The damage has been done, and it is unlikely that we’re going to find an easy way out at this point. The only way to approach the wicked issues at hand is to get into the roots of the system and at least begin to create meaningful systemic change.

Reading Response #3/ Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver


Speculative City

Reading Response #3

The knowledge of this dark matter, is both enlightening and infuriating. It’s such an systematic and nearly “architectural” concept. Of course designing the chair around by looking at house, I’m looking at you Frank Lloyd Wright, has a long precedent in architecture, but product design’s manipulation of the context often work backwards. While there is a ton of value in using the meta to create matter, as proven by the advent of post-modernism, I find myself obsessing over the role of matter and materiality revealing the dark matter itself.

I’m so In Love with the idea that some combination of utility, manufacturing, and pragmatism can create an object so “true” (I’m sorry Focault) that it shines a light into the dark matter. That a design can be so based in material that it can cut open and gut the Hegemon, allowing future designs to play around with the entrails to create a whole new archetype of product. A shining example of this are the historic, and yet timeless chair designs of Thonet. His innovations on a material front opened up a whole new world of production. Specially chairs no. 14 and no. 18, are still common to find in coffee shops and homes today, and bizarrely enough don’t feel like anachronism or archaic.

An excellent contemporary example of this pragmatism of manipulating material enough to disturb the dark matter would be Sam Hecht and Kim Colin’s Industrial Facility and their much more nebulous and adventurous Future Facility branch, which tackles the concept of objects in the internet age.

However, to return to the idea of how infuriating and paralyzing the knowledge of dark mater can be, the quote “a hammer only sees nails” is perfect. It requires an almost inhumanly large mental acuity to enter the massive swamp of systems and return with solutions. The current landscape of dark matter is so massive and burdensome, and inherently entrenched in a globalized and capitalist society, it is no wonder most designers are unaware or even consciously reject it’s existence. The bliss of ignorance is apparent to any designer who has attempted to pull back the curtains on this hegemonic structure.

I recall a conversation had in the classroom with an Autodesk employee, who boldly claimed that generative design is the True Future of product. That designers will be forced to take the role of philosopher kings, who uses data and psychology rather than prototyping and testing to create objects. That companies will begin to race to build the most expansive computer systems and gather the most data on the population, in order to create the most effective products. And yet, I’m very skeptical of this vision. The things that give me hope about design are so tied to human emotion and understanding on a one to one basis, but I wonder if this ideology will still have a home in design schools in 30 years. I fantasize about world with intensely localized production and connections to material and objects, but I’ve never been so unsure of its feasibility.

Reading Response 3/ Natalie Washington

Author Dan Hill, in his book entitled, “Dark matter and Trojan Horses A Strategic Design Vocabulary”, presents a challenge to designers to begin creating as a result of the design’s context in its’ outermost sense. He begins by asserting that design, to be truly effective, must engage with the “politics” of the norm, the conventional standards of an establishment, or learned practices, and so on. What I found provocative was the very last sentence in the intro, that states, “effective design…may mean redesigning the organization that hires you.” I thought that was important to note because of its implication that disturbing dark matter is something that could be done as an employee/hired designer (wage slave), and further, that positioning possibly even being more effective, because of your relative closeness and knowledge and familiarity of the underlying issues/structure. This made me think that the potential influence you could have over that organization greatly increases if you indeed are a part of the machine, and are respected by the org., (versus marching out front with a picket sign). This is a solution per the discussion we had last class that called attention to the cognitive dissonance one faces when working for a firm that appeals to a commercial market (how unfulfilling and counterproductive it could be to one’s “bigger picture” or values.) I think if you can find a company whose overall mission and values align with yours, that may have fallen subject to or incorporated capitalistic practices/ideals, you have an opportunity to observe it’s inner workings and the dark matter’s effects/influence on every facet of the company. This could very well still include climbing the corporate latter (and by then, would your values remain unchanged?) I don’t have the answers, I guess it would all rely on if you have the interest in/endurance to engage and undertaking that challenge; it’s a grand idea but it’s definitely something to consider.

After describing what dark matter essentially “is”, Hill goes on to emphasize the difference between temporary ideas vs. ideas that would have the ability to grow as a result (or representation) of the permanent and influential change within a system. He describes the relationship as something that is symbiotic, stressing that the artefact must be successfully executed, and just as significant as the very change made into the dark matter itself. This ties in with the previous optional reading, “Speculative Design: Criteria and Motivations” by James Auger that speaks to designers about the potential consequences of producing an artifact that is not holistic and substantial in its’ approach to demonstrating the benefit of change to the dark matter. Although Hill takes a more dismissive approach to this discussion, deeming such prototypes or installations as “one-offs,” Auger takes a more cautionary approach, warning designers of the misinterpretaion that can come as a result of design that fails to embody its deeper justifications or benefits.

Speculative design is immature and evolving, and as such its boundaries, definition, and purpose at best lack focus, and at worst are simply misunderstood. Speculative design projects are commonly related to the technological future, but not always; they use fiction in some way, but it is not necessarily apparent, and its practice takes diverse forms, on various scales and with numerous goals. The spectacular and provocative nature of many projects results in broad dissemination that raises the profile of the approach, but fundamentally neglects its (potentially) deeper justifications or benefits. Complicating matters further is its close relation to other practices such as design fiction and critical design, which leads to assumptions that its raison d’être or approach is the same.” (Auger)

This is an idea worth comparing any project against even in relation to the first concept I spoke about in this response (attempting to change an organization’s dark matter from the inside). With this approach to design being relatively new, it’s important to consider the consequences of falling short of your intention. Below is a link to a public discussion had by young designers about  “Speculative Design in the Real World” where designers that practice this work in this field of design, had an opportunity to discuss this.

Speculative Design in the “Real World” (public discussion)

Noah | Response 003

This week’s reading was well timed with the English class that I am taking. In this class  we are reading into the concept of a rhetoric and the historical context behind it. Below are two readings that we did, and I have certain aspects highlighted inside to them. 

The Rhetorical Situation_ Its Historical Situation and Its Current Limitations The Rhetorical Situation–Lloyd Bitzer(1)

In Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of a rhetorical situation, he states that “rhetoric is a mode of altering reality, not by the direct application of energy to objects, but by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action” (Bitzer 3). This is often rooted in the persuaders ability to instill inquisitive thinking and bring a situation into a new, inspiring perspective. In summary, quality rhetoric has the purpose of creating discourse within a person, community or society,  which means that discursive design is a form of a rhetoric.

Dark matter, which is the space where all possibilities and necessary points of consideration all reside, is where the “brave” look to pull inspiration and solutions from. I mention the word brave because most people choose to avoid looking here because it is guaranteed to be overwhelming and uncomfortable when you get into the thick of darkness. Searching and speculating on the dark matter, finding balance between the meta and the matter, is where we as designers can find begin to look for new perspectives when tackling these large, societal issues. Being able to gracefully navigate this balancing act is how we can unlock “a better solution, a solution that sticks at the initial contact point, and then ripples out to produce systemic change” (Hill 83).  

Moving forward from here, a simple self-check with the work we do can relate to Aristotle’s key attributes to a good rhetorical speech. You need three key features: Ethos, Logos and Pathos. The Ethos is what gives us the validation to speak on a certain matter, whether it’s background experience, a degree, a personal interest, or a lacking of personal gain. Logos pertains to the logical argument, which should be rooted in research, facts, common sense, and common-understandable knowledge. The most powerful attribute is the Pathos, the emotional appeal. If the other two were able to work so well, then we potentially wouldn’t be dealing with climate change or water shortages. Emotional appeal goes directly to the heart, which affects the actions that the brain decides to take, regardless if the decision is logical or not. Whether or not we create an emotionally-jarring concept in this studio is where we can speculate the impact of our studio’s labors.