Not Signed-In
Select and review.
19 NOVEMBER 2013

Applying Heidegger's Philosophy to Design

"Heidegger's philosophy offers what is arguably the most thorough account of the process of human understanding available. Although his analysis of interpretation is useful if one is to understand activities like innovative design, it never addresses the realm of design directly. Heidegger discusses interpretation at a high level of generality and chooses his examples from interactions between people and physical artifacts, like the use of hammers by carpenters. He is concerned with the nature of understandingly being in the world. While a person's world includes conceptual and imaginative realms like design, Heidegger's examples primarily come from the world of physical artifacts which can be encountered perceptually. ...

Heidegger treats artifacts in the world the same way he would treat design artifacts on the drawing board. That is, he is not really concerned with them as physically present objects of perception. On the contrary, his main effort philosophically is to distinguish artifacts–in–use from traditional conceptions of physically–present–objects. For example, a hammer in use is not understood by the carpenter as an observed object with physical attributes, but is skillfully applied to the activities of the current situation. Furthermore, this skillful use takes place within the context of future–oriented plans and desires, such as the anticipation of the item that is under construction. This is similar to components of a design, which are skillfully arranged in terms of their relationships to other design components and within the context of the anticipated final design. Marks in a design sketch, for instance, are important for their roles within a network of significances, rather than for their physical properties as lines. Interpretation of both physical artifacts and designs is situated. ...

The notion of breakdown in action plays a rather small role in Heidegger's analysis of human understanding. Heidegger uses examples of breakdown in order to make explicit the network of references among artifacts that are only present tacitly under conditions of normal use. Yet, the notion of breakdown has been elevated to central importance in the theories that have tried to adopt Heidegger's analysis to a theory of design and to operationalize this theory for computer support. Thus, breakdown plays an important role in Schön (1985), Winograd & Flores (1986), Suchman (1987), Ehn (1988), Budde & Züllighoven (1990), McCall, Morch, & Fischer (1990), Dreyfus (1991), Coyne & Snodgrass (1991), Fischer & Nakakoji (1992).

The fact that so many writers influenced by Heidegger have focused on breakdown does not provide multiple independent support for this emphasis. ... most of these writers have been influenced by Heidegger only indirectly–either through Dreyfus or through Schön. If one looks closely at the discussions of breakdown in Dreyfus and Schön, one can note an ambiguity in whether they are speaking about a (ontological) breakdown in the network of references or a (practical) breakdown in action. Dreyfus is certainly aware of the ontological role of breakdown, but he is concerned to make his presentation acceptable to an American audience, trained in the rationalist tradition. For the sake of concreteness, he uses examples that stress the breakdown in action. Schön is also aware of the ontological ramifications, but he has couched his discussion in terms of action (e.g., knowing–in–action, reflection–in–action), so it often seems that his examples of breakdown exemplify breakdowns in action rather than breakdowns in situated understanding. Given that it is easier to operationalize breakdowns in action than breakdowns in situated understanding, it is not surprising that people interested in producing practical results from Dreyfus or Schön's theories would tend to emphasize the action–oriented reading of the ambiguous discussions."

(Gerry Stahl, 5 January 2004)

TAGS

action-oriented reading • Adrian Snodgrass • Anders Morch • anticipation • artefacts-in-use • being-in-the-worldbreakdown • breakdown in action • breakdown in the network of references • breakdowns in action • breakdowns in situated understanding • carpenter • conceptual domain • concreteness • current situationdesign artefactsdesign innovation • design sketch • design theoryDonald Schon • drawing board • Fernando Floresflow • Gerhard Fischer • Gerry Stahl • hammer • Heinz Zullighoven • Hubert Dreyfushuman perception • human understanding • innovative design • knowing-in-action • Kumiyo Nakakoji • Lucy Suchman • Martin Heidegger • nature of understanding • network of references • network of significances • normal use • objects of perception • Pelle Ehn • philosophy of design • physical artefacts • physical attributes • physical properties • physically present • physically-present-objects • rationalist tradition • Raymond McCall • reflection-in-action • Reinhard Budde • Richard Coynesituated construction of realitysituated knowledgessketching ideas • skillful use • Terry Winogradtheory of design

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
Sign-In

Sign-In to Folksonomy

Can't access your account?

New to Folksonomy?

Sign-Up or learn more.