Jan Chipchase’s ‘Red Mat’ design experiment is brilliant by itself, but is goes much further than being just a design experiment.
The opening of the essay that sets the contextual framework for the project is for me the most interesting part:
By now there are very few people left on the planet that aren’t in some way impacted by globalisation – as producers and consumers – those few who make a decision to opt-out must do so consciously. Yet our touch points to this interconnected system that churns out ever more, ever faster inherently limits our understanding of the whole. We can talk about globalisation, buy into it, buy from it, demonstrate against it, but for most of us its scale and complexity defies comprehension. Part of the machine is dedicated to designing, prototyping, testing and pushing to market connected products and services that know more about us, than we ever will about them.
It’s as if we were standing on the top of a hill and are now running at full pelt into the fog below – not quite knowing what lies ahead, letting gravity and momentum carry us, and doing our best to avoid the silhouettes of objects as they loom into view, chased by the fear of stopping.
We are living in an increasingly interconnected, and increasingly automated world. The consequences of our actions may be road-mapped, extrapolated, scenarioed, but ultimately, at best it is smart guesswork.
Chipchase posits products and services as withdrawn objects that are unknowable to us by their scale and complexity but both of those are just symptoms of the unknowability of objects in general. This is in line with most of the current thinking on objects in speculative realism.
For us designers, makers the question then is: given such a bleak view of knowability in the world at large and of objects in particular, what are successful strategies for creating these products and services. More succinctly: How do we design in the face of defeat?
The writing about the new aesthetic that has reached a tipping point in the last week is one way of dealing with —or at least cataloging— the algorithmic complexity in the world around us, but as Chipchase’s welcome mat shows, all objects carry with them so much weight that even the simplest ones become unfathomably complex.
I’m mulling over how to proceed. One preliminary idea: we should do away with all strategic design and business theory and just make things. But then again, we were already doing that.