Theory of Culture and Theory of Technology

Doctoral candidates

Florian Arnold

De­sign logic

Tutors: Prof. Martin Gessmann, Prof. Klaus Klemp, Prof. Frank Georg Zebner

Fabian Kragenings

Pa­ra­me­ters of de­sign

Tutors: Prof. Martin Gessmann, Prof. Frank Georg Zebner

Xuan Zheng

Virtual touch and authenticity

Tutors: Prof. Martin Gessmann, Prof. Frank Georg Zebner

Further information

It goes without saying that design has to do with aesthetics. Not just in the sense of designed objects having to be somehow presentable and interesting, as according to Raymond Loewy. Design is also appreciated in terms of formal aesthetics, as are objects of fine art. Aesthetics is needed in order for us to fundamentally understand what the special content and structure of design is really all about. The question could be posed as to whether aesthetics indicates being in harmony with the big picture (in the ancient world this was understood to be the ‘cosmos’), or whether the discipline is conversely rooted in the special imagination of the subject, in whose light the world only begins to become appreciable. Questions on the different genres of aesthetics could be asked, ranging from harmony theory to the aesthetics of ugliness. And finally one could consider how reflective and critical aesthetics is when it comes to comparing designed objects with the world. The focus in the Product Design department clearly lies on contemporary questions and thereby on the prospects of how aesthetics is being re-configured and how the discipline sees itself after Postmodernism.

The connection between technology theory and design too is comparatively obvious. After all, design, industrial design at any rate, is inconceivable without technological mass-production. Production techniques thereby already provide a framework for the special task that design has to fulfill. But those products that are themselves technical objects also challenge design. The latter occurs mainly when the technical utensils become complex and their inner workings hard to comprehend. In this case, it seems to be design’s responsibility to organize the technical finesse and shape it in a way that allows for the technical application to be operated and makes it usable on a daily basis. In connection to this, design has been defined as an ‘interface’ between user and device. Design can then be taken to mean a special designing of surfaces that makes the underlying technical aspect graphically comprehensible. A new, current stage of technology theory has surfaced in the fact that devices are not only becoming hyper complex in terms of the functions they offer, but also intelligent. Theory (and practice too, of course) reflects the fact that it is now no longer just surfaces that need designing, but the interaction between device and user. In this context we speak of applications and their special look and feel.

As well as dealing with production and products, technology theory has to do with a third aspect. This aspect reflects the special position that man has in relation to technology. In the 20th century, this spectrum spans technological zeal as well as a complete rejection of technology. Technology is seen as easing a burden or as a threat. Such background questions become important when the technical look of technical objects is concerned, which is to be avoided or enhanced – or to be re-designed in a completely new way. More recent perspectives in technology envisage the possibility of if becoming neither simply a threat nor an aid, but that it could be conceived to (in some way) operate on a partnership basis with human beings.

Cultural theory offers a wider framework for gaining an overview as compared to aesthetics and technology theory. Here, aesthetics and technology are embedded in the context of society as a whole. Central questions are concerned with how modern life inherently redesigns and organizes itself, how it in turn becomes increasingly urbanized and accelerated, and how it might thereby seem more intense than anything seen so far. An understanding of such modernization processes is necessary in order to grasp the era in which a product will have to be able to prove itself in future. In this respect, cultural theory is always also a theory of the modern world. As in technology theory and aesthetics, the focus is on current developments. In particular it is the changes brought about by the phenomenon of global interconnection that designers must focus their attention on. A change in social matters brought about by new forms of interaction could currently be regarded as the biggest challenge for both theory and practice.