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IX.4 July 2002
Page: 11
Digital Citation

From use to presence: on the expressions and aesthetics of everyday computational things


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Computational technology is increasingly becoming a part
  of our everyday lives. It is partly used as the means for
  accomplishing certain tasks, but increasingly also as a kind
  of "building blocks" we use to construct our
  lifeworlds, whether as parts of an interior design to
  control lighting or heating or as part of our personal outfit
  (such as our mobile phones). We argue that this development
  drives a shift in focus from efficient use to
  meaningful presence of computational technology.

 

To illustrate the perspectives of use and
  presence, consider the following two ways of answering
  a question about a given piece of furniture in my home. On
  the one hand, a certain chair can be described as a device
  for sitting that is capable of supporting a particular
  weight; on the other hand, the chair might be described as my
  favorite place to sit and read or as the cherished memory of
  a late relative. Whereas the first description gives a
  general functional description of the chair, the
  second one concerns this particular thing’s place in my life;
  in other words, it is an existential definition based on the
  thing’s presence in my lifeworld. As we begin to understand
  how to design information technology for various aspects of
  usability and practical function, it is much less clear what
  design for meaningful presence in this area might be.

 

Searching for an answer to what one would craft when
  designing for presence, we argue that the expressions of
  things
in use are central—it is through its
  basic expressions that a thing presents itself to us.
  From a phenomenological perspective we refer here to the
  basic constituents that form the appearance of a given thing.
  This should not be confused with what a given thing
  might express, as when we consider a particular car or piece
  of clothing to express a certain lifestyle. Although every
  existential definition of a thing will be unique, something
  invariant over these definitions depends on the expressions
  of the very thing itself; we might call this its
  expression-identity.

 

A designer needs to understand how expressions
  build various forms of meaningful presence. This is where
  aesthetics appears: aesthetics, as a "logic" of
  expressions, can serve as a basis for investigating
  expressions of computational technology and for determining
  how this technology, as a kind of design
  material, builds the presence of computational things.
  To do this we can form a research agenda to try to formulate
  a theory of the expressions and aesthetics of computational
  things and to search for methods of tracing existential
  definitions to the expression-identities of given
  computational things. In our paper we present such a research
  agenda and discuss how it can guide further design
  experiments.

 

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