This one is a work in progress! I just had to get the thoughts out.

When I'm around other designers and I begin to speak about art, more often than not, someone just has to mention that art is NOT the same as design. Design is logical and scientific and art is emotional and expressive. Design is the intersection of art and science!

It almost feels like they are trying to defend design from the uncertain and difficult to pin down concept of art. Are we afraid of art? Or are afraid of uncertainty?

But what is science and what is art? To me, they are two sides of the same coin. Both play an important part in helping us to understand our world.

Science gives us the most accurate understanding of the world at the present. It can eventually be proven, disproven and tested. I think theoretical physicists are really cool. Even though I know pretty much nothing about high-level physics, it seems like they operate right at the edge of the expanding bubble of truth, trying to understand what is more...true.

I feel like art does that as well, but it operates differently. If science operates at the boundary, art tries to imagine what is over the boundary. It could be wrong, but who cares whether it's wrong? How do you progress into the future if you never try to imagine it? Art explores the kind of truth that we can't prove at the moment but may exist nonetheless.

EDIT: Perhaps philosophy is to art as science is to technology? But the four expand into each other and overlap?

My weird little illustration.

 

Is it any coincidence that modern art, evolved simultaneously with the physical study of subatomic particles and space exploration? The more technology and cognitive science and psychology allow us to more accurately observe the world, the more complex our representation of both external and internal worlds can become.

Much of visual design relies on grids, and this is one grid master I really love.

Agnes Martin, Little Sister, 1962

 

Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 1987

 

Technology has been getting closer and closer to the boundary of science as design gets closer to the boundary of technology. At what point do the three converge?Is it happening right now as technology not only becomes an integral part of our daily lives but our bodies and brains?

As we design for more technologically complex systems, we not only need to operate at that same edge, we need to imagine what may be beyond it. This is important because we are defining our relationship to this technology, we are defining how it operates within our lives. We are designing systems that not only have to be "good" for us now, they have to be good in 10 years, 100 years. What foundation are we building artificially intelligent and self-improving machines on? How will we interact with other people? How are we interacting with the broader environment?

So as designers, being able to look outside of the boundary and imagine a possible future could be a crucial part of avoiding disaster. We could learn a lot from art and its history, from cave paintings to conceptual art to work created by artificial intelligence.

Its funny, the same anxiety and identity crisis that designers seem to be having about AI taking over the "making" and production part of their jobs happened about 60 years ago with art.

Artists questioned their own role as producers and makers of things which brought in an era of conceptual art. The idea of the artist as a curator became more prevalent. Artists began to question whether the art was more about the idea or the object. The object became an artifact and the idea took centre stage.

We can take a look at Sol LeWitt's instructions where he defined the parameters of an artwork, which his assistants then executed. But what's interesting is that anyone, anywhere in the world with a wall and a pencil could execute these instructions but achieve slightly different results. The possible executions are as large as the variety of people with walls and pencils.

"The idea becomes a machine that makes the art"
A paragraph showing Sol LeWitt's instructions on drawing on a wall.

Sol LeWitt, Instructions for Wonderous Walls

 

So what may the future of design look like? Right now, with our current content bubble problem, we have the illusion of endless possibilities, but we are largely confined to what we already know.

However, at one point art was confined to painting and sculpture, then it expanded to include printmaking and photography, film, then performance, film. Now it's pretty much anything that expresses an idea or concept, from any culture, anywhere in the world within any context. Or at least it's attempting to do so with varying levels of success and with various side-effects. One side-effect is actually further polarisation, where many divisive sub-groups are created, constantly pushing each other apart instead of learning to exist with each other.

Product design in the past was limited to our physical capacity to manufacture objects. Now the potential of 3D printing, the internet of things and software-based products have significantly expanded the possibilities. I may be optimistic, but perhaps the future of design is driven by individual solutions based on individual contexts. On one hand, I hope it does. But I worry about the implications of being too focused on the individual person and neglecting our need to engage with other people.