I'm presenting an overview of an aspect of my research position to an audience of 75 at Pecha Kucha Edinburgh #10 on 10th December.
Here is essentially what I'd like to say on the night (but if you're there it will be mostly ad-libbed).
"Like many from a creative design discipline I’m always confronting people’s perceptions of design as one of surface. This is a common misconception that in my broader academic research I’m attempting to dispel. The aesthetics of surface will upon closer inspection give way to the aesthetics of use. My design discipline of Visual Communication is continually prone to being seen as purely a subjective exercise. But it is about the use of communication.
In approaching the aesthetics of use I am following the work of Jorge Frascara who argues that Visual Communication is about changing behaviour. Visual Communication as a discipline has two main design outcomes: graphic design and illustration. The discipline’s name places the emphasis upon the method (design), the objective (communication) and the medium (visual), rather than just the creation of graphic forms (outcomes). The quality of it’s objective is measured in how behaviour is changed.
To understand how this change can be measured I am developing a visual phenomenological methodology through which to understand experience. Using hermeneutic phenomenology as a philosophical grounding, I’ve begun to capture and visually identify themes of experience. These themes can be interpreted to reveal the structures of a studied experience - in fact some of the volunteers are in the audience tonight - [shout out] - and where experimented on in here last month.
The phenomenological themes are revealed through a hermeneutic circle of interpretive analysis. The researcher (me) isolates, using an established framework by van Manen, delves deeper from a position of existing understanding. By breaking each participant’s experience down into constitutive themes, these themes can be individually interpreted - in my case visually. Then the themes can be combined and interpreted as a whole, before being tested for validity and uniqueness to the particular experience under study. This then changes the original understanding, moving the research forward into a deeper understanding of how that experience is structured.
Under-pinning this hermeneutic phenomenological perspective is essentially an existential philosophical ground espoused by Martin Heidegger. Simplifying some heavy philosophy in the few minutes I have, I may be forgiven for summing this up as the being of being. That opens things up into a consideration of the self in the lifeworld which can be separated into four existentials: lived space; lived body; lived time; and lived human relation.
Lived space or spatiality is our being in the world. All our experiences happen within a context, and that context shapes the experiences we have. We, in a way, for a time become the space we are in - our felt space. Within a particular experience we may be conscious or not of this felt space - each aspect of this space consciously or sub-consciously influencing our actions.
Lived body or corporeality is our embodiment in the world. We make sense through our senses, and that sense of our bodies within our experience shapes our experience. Embodiment is how we encounter physical and social reality directly rather than abstractly. Embodiment denotes a form of participative status, a property that allows us to make our engagement with the world meaningful.
Lived time or temporality is our subjective perception of time - how we understand our sense of time and how it affects us. Temporality includes our previous experiences, our memories (real and false) that leave traces on our present. As we exist in the lifeworld our new experiences are pressured and influenced by our lived time. We exist in a perpetual state of becoming so our past is forever changing as we exist.
Lived human relation or relationality is the other through which we seek understanding of our self. All our experiences happen within a context, and that context shapes the experiences we have. It is the lived relation we maintain with others, both physical and abstract that shapes the experiences we have. This includes the interpersonal space that we share with others within the lifeworld - our lived world in which have our experiences.
The four existentials of lived space; lived body; lived time; and lived human relation can be differentiated from each other. But they can never be separated from each other. Our sense of self - our being of being - is constituent of all for parts. We exist bodily in time, in space, and not in isolation - we have experiences in interconnected situated moments. It is these existentials that inform our behaviour and can be calibrated to alter our future approaches to experiences.
There are two forms of experience. An anaesthetic experience is where we are on automatic pilot performing tasks with little focus on action or purpose is automatic. Alternatively, an autotelic experience is an experience that in itself is purposeful which leads to, from a pragmatist philosophical position as John Dewey suggests, aesthetic experiences. These aesthetic experiences are purposefully enjoyable in their interaction - with a beginning, middle and a culmination that is enjoyable.
John Dewey and Richard Shusterman suggests a pragmatic philosophical framework on how aesthetic experiences are structured. It is through the work on Flow by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi [pronounced Me-high Cheek-sent-me-high]that provides a phenomenology of enjoyment. His eight components are all (or mostly) present in a particular aesthetic experience. In these phenomenological components the four existentials are present. This provides me as a Visual Communication researcher the rich abstracted concepts to visually develop the discipline further toward the aesthetics of use.
#1 Chance of completing
The sense of enjoyment appears to sit at an interface between boredom and anxiety. To enjoy an activity there appears a need for the tension between boredom and anxiety in completing it. Based upon an individual’s existing skills if the activity is too easy they will become bored quickly; too difficult they will feel anxious about not completing it. Enjoyment emerges out of an aesthetic experience where that tension is exciting, and the completion is possible with an application of the self in its achievement.
#2 Concentration on actions
When in a moment, that can be described as FLOW or an aesthetic experience, all other aspects of our life can be forgotten for a time. This is a by-product of being where enjoyable activities command a complete focusing on that moments actions. The clearly structured demands of the experience impose a sense of order in our consciousness. This in turn excludes any interference of our everyday worries and responsibilities - for a time.
#3 clear goals
Clear goals are not superficial and simple, nor are they always preformed. Clear goals of open-ended activities emerge out of ambiguities. The open-endedness of creative situations begin with vague goals that are subsequently fleshed out during the activity in a sense of exploration. Without clear goals to aim for the experience is unstructured and will meander. With even initial vague goals feedback will inform of when they have been met.
#4 immediate feedback
The kind of feedback that is worked toward is valid in its symbolic message it contains. It informs us of our level of success in achieving our goals. It creates order in consciousness and strengthens the structure of the self. The feedback required by the individual is variable. The key is that as long as the feedback is logically related to our goal, any feedback can become enjoyable - even feedback that isn’t positive.
#5 effortless involvement
Once in an enjoyable experience the desire and purpose is not to peak and to come out of the Flow of the experience - to return to a conscious self. A state of effortless involvement is enacted but this not all that it feels. To feel that, on reflection, the involvement has been effortless does still involve skilled performance. A lapse in concentration returns the individual to a state of self-consciousness, and self-evaluation - the state of Flow is interrupted.
#6 sense of control over self
Enjoyment in leisure activities is distinct from mundane everyday activities where any bad things can happen. Within an autotelic experience where the end is itself rewarding, the enjoyment is consuming without anxiety of failure. There is a paradox here as there is a sense of control over the self - or a lack of worry of about losing control that we do not have in our everyday existence.
#7 concern for self disappears
The loss of self-consciousness and concern for their self during an experience, is due to little opportunity for the self to feel threatened. Enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules and the challenge within the skills of the individual. Comfort zones can thus be pushed where the challenge is enjoyable. The loss of self-consciousness does not involve a loss of self or of consciousness - but just a loss of consciousness of the self.
#8 Sense of time is altered
The freedom from the tyranny of objective time when in a state of complete involvement is exhilarating. The intense concentration an individual finds themselves in when absorbed in an enjoyable experience. Timing may still be objectively the same, but the sensation of passing of time is altered. It may be perceived as speeding up or slowing down despite pacing of actions or goals.
Here I’ll end as my time has passed and my pacing may be spot on or not. This has been an overview of the richness of pursuing the four existentials to understand the aesthetics of use."