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Environmental Design and Industrial Design: Integrating Knowledge around Urgent Issues Essay

The connection between environmental design and industrial design is, by now, generally accepted.1 Yet, when one considers the merits of the relationship, it becomes clear that there are certain aspects which require refinement and elaboration. This is particu- larly evident if one considers how disciplinary practices are currently defined within the separate fields. Actually, it is environ mental design which requires further reflection as well as develop ment of its contents, tasks, and methodological tools, and important work in this direction is being undertaken. The position of indus trial design is, instead, better defined, in that it builds from the following cornerstones:

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• A definition of the discipline formulated in 1961 by Tomis Maldonado; adopted that same year by ICSID, the international Council of Societies of Industrial Design, and still valid in its principal tenets;

• The presence at an international level of a specific univer sity education; and

• The existence of a profession—that practiced by industrial designers—which has an operational structure, fields of intervention, and well-defined operational methods.

Currently, we are witnessing changes in the field of concern of industrial design, in that diverse peripheral topics are gaining more importance, particularly those connected to environmental design. Yet the recognition of these changes does not mean to assert, as some do, that almost everything now falls within the field of industrial design, because such changes mean an irreversible disso lution of those aspects peculiar to the discipline. It would be more productive to transfer to industrial design, with due care, the model of scientific research programs elaborated by Imre Lakatos? The Hungarian-born philosopher of science has proposed a model that bases scientific research programs on two fundamental concepts: those of a “hard core” and of a “protective belt.” The hard core consists of those stable elements which are essential to and characterize a program of research. The protective belt of a research program is, instead, more flexible and changeable in that its individual elements are subjected to experimental verifi cation and must clarify their relationship to the hard core. Remaining within this terminology, I would like to stress that, in examining the relationships between environmental design and industrial design, 1 will limit myself to considering only the hard core of industrial design. That is, I will concentrate on indus trial design understood as the design of material products which are the result of industrial production and which are characterized by a plurality of features (formal, functional, performance-oriented, techno-economical, techno-productive, etc.). Turning to environmental design, I believe it is necessary at this point to recall some of the essential characteristics of its sub jectthe concept of environment and to mention some of their operational consequences.

1

The environment is a system. It is, therefore, characterized by the presence of diverse elements—physical, chemical, biological, socio cultural, techno-economic, etc. These elements are tied so closely together that they are very difficult to separate. This system is composed of both objective and measurable elements, such as the concentrations of various pollutants found in the atmosphere, as well as subjective and unmeasurable elements such as values, lifestyle choices, and individual and collective needs. Furthermore, an environment defined in this way can be structured upon the basis of four subsystems—the biosphere, the geosphere, the socios phere, and the technosphere. Such a subdivision is, without doubt, conventional but its use has value in that it renders transparent the historical evolutionary process leading to the systemic notion of environment by making explicit the principal disciplines which have contributed to that process. Even more important is that such a subdivision stresses the basic character of environment, which is the indissoluble tie of anthropic (techno- and sociosphere) and nonanthropic (bio- and geosphere) elements. It then becomes super fluous, as well as improper, to qualify the term environment with such adjectives as natural or artificial, or to make a distinction between that which is noxious for human beings and that which is noxious for the environment. In fact, human needs, individual and social human behavior, the diverse forms of social organization, and technological production are constituent parts of the environment rather than independent and external variables. In some ways, the systemic notion of environment is in direct contrast to the notion of nature, notwithstanding the fact that they are considered synony mous, particularly in daily usage. This identification of one for the other is as much arbitrary as misleading. The concept of nature has, since ancient times, always been connected to the idea of a mono lithic and immutable generative principle, which being outside and above human action has therefore determined it. Such a notion of  nature has little cognitive value in that it refers to an uncontami nated and primordial world which in reality no longer exists, if it ever did. Such an assumption is not at all lacking in actual conse- quences. Whether stated explicitly or not, it forms the ideological base of various movements such as Radical Environmentalism and Deep Ecology. These movements reject in concrete and even violent ways every and any intervention into “nature.” This rejection is bom of the firm conviction that even the smallest change in the orig inal state of nature cannot but produce irreparable damage. This, however, compromises the mobilization of tools which are indis pensable to plan and guide the inevitable transformation of the environment. The extreme consequences of such thinking would be the renunciation of even those actions directed toward the saving of the living elements of the environment.

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2

Another relevant characteristic of the environment is that every problem within the field involves different scales of intervention. Let us consider, for example, a global problem such as the hole in the ozone. By now it can be stated with reasonable scientific certainty that the problem is caused by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), and that the solution would be the quick substitution of other chem ical products for CFCs. But the characteristics of CFCs have allowed their pervasive use. They are odorless, tasteless, nontoxic, and inert in the lower levels of the atmosphere. They have significant power of thermal insulation, and are highly effective for use in refrigera tion, as a propellant, and as a cleaning agent for microchips and other fine mechanical components. Therefore, it is not enough to forbid the use of CFCs to stop the thinning of the protective ozone layer. It is essential to rethink and redesign those products having to do with refrigeration and conservation, such as those used in the transportation of wholesale foods as well as the heating and cooling systems in buildings. More generally, it is indispensable to rethink our existing lifestyles. This example, however summary, clearly shows the abstract ness and, therefore, the inadequacy of those positions which aspire to deal with global environmental problems solely through the building of complex scenarios, through the establishing of interna tional standards, or through the making of laws and regulations. These are obviously useful and necessary, but the more important game is played out on a more concrete and complex level where design action has greater opportunities for intervention. At this level, the relationships between environmental design, industrial design, and other design disciplines are not at all forced or arbitrary but, rather, they find indisputable justification in the types of problems that must be confronted.

3
The environment is certainly a system characterized by high complexity as much in a mechanistic as a holistic sense. More explicitly, the environment is a highly complex system because:

• it is composed of many and different components;

• each component has diverse functions within the system;

•the individual components and functions are both connected and, at times, contradictory; and,

• everything cannot be explained in terms of components, functional structures, and reciprocal relationships.

Moreover, that the environment would be characterized as a complex system is not only a statement of fact but also a value judg ment. In many regards, complexity is a positive and even auspicious characteristic. This can be illustrated with a few examples. Biolog ical diversity, a relevant part of the complexity of the biosphere, is a concept important enough to be protected by law. Concerning the sociosphere, we have learned from Emile Durkheim that complexity is a feature of an advanced society. In his doctoral thesis in 1893, he differentiated between the forms of aggregation of a mechanic soci ety and an organic one.* The first form, characteristic of primitive societies, possesses a low level of complexity, as the process of socialization presupposes a drastic limitation of the individual’s role in favor of cohesion to common, general principles. Emblematic of this are theocratic societies. On the contrary, the organic form of social aggregation typical of advanced societies, emphasizes the free interaction of individuals and groups, and therefore allows for alarge increase in complexity.

Useful for a better determination of the objective of environ mental design can also be the similarity between the characteristics of the environment and of Large Technical Systems (LTS). Large Technical Systems being the term used to designate, for example, systems of transportation, energy, and information. The concept, first introduced in the field of history of technology, has strongly influenced the more innovative trends of contemporary philosophy and sociology of technology. Significant contributions include those of Thomas P. Hughes of the University of Pennsylvania and Renate Mayntz of the Max-Plank-Institut in Koln. The extension of the concept of LTS from the historical analytical field to that of design seems particularly stimulating and promising. In fact, at the core of this theory is the thesis that techno logical innovations are not explainable in technocratic terms, but in systemic terms. Thomas P. Hughes states: Inventions such as the lightbulb, the radio, the airplane, and the gas-powered automobile are justified within the context of a technological system. Such systems, according to Hughes, are made up of much more than the so-called hardware, the equipment, machines, and networks of transportation, communication, and information individually connected. They also are made up of human beings and organizations. From our perspective, a conceptual and operational structure which consists of multiple factors (technical, scientific, organizational, and social, among others) and multiple scales (from technical products to networks) is very relevant.’

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In the light of what has been said to this point, some ques-
tions become more significant.

1. Is it possible through design to confront environmental
problems and, ultimately, legitimate and sensible to talk
about environmental design, meaning the designing of the
environment?

2. If the response to the first question is yes, what role can
environmental design and industrial design play in this
context?

3. How will industrial design change if, in the design of prod-
ucts environmental factors will have to be considered?

4. Does environmental design exist only as a more or less
structured research sector, or rather as a real and legitimate
discipline precisely located in the academic panorama, or
does it also define a new profession?

5. If it is legitimate to recognize professional tasks for environ-
mental design, what are its referents, and, finally but not
less important, should new operational and design meth-
ods be developed specifically for this new profession or
should those already codified be reconsidered.

In addition, the real meaning of the term “design” could be discussed at length, although this is not the point at which to develop such an important topic. We must be satisfied at this point with an extremely synthetic but workable definition in which the design process is seen as a two-way relationship between a reality to design (in our case the environment) and its model. The first phase of the process consists of the analysis, individuation, and delimiting of design problems. In this phase, one moves through a process of abstraction and formalization, from reality to a model which represents reality in a way coherent with the design objec tives, methods, and techniques. The second phase consists of plan ning and implementation of design interventions By working through simulations on the model and through directed actions built on specific, defined factors, this phase leads to a controlled modification of reality and to a solution to the problem. In both these phases, simplicity plays a primary role. As every designer knows, the tools to formalize reality, the model, the simulation, and the interventions on reality must be as simple as possible. There exists an apparently unsolvable contradiction between the complexity of the environment regarded as system and the simplicity intrinsic to the design process. To confront this prob lem, the distinction between ontological and semiotic complexity introduced by Mario Bunge proves very interesting.4 Seen in these terms, a distinction lies between the complexity of the environment and the complexity of the models, the theories, and the method ological tools used in the design of the environment. The reduction of the ontological complexity is as much impossible as illegitimate, and the simplification of the semiotic complexity is, instead, not only sensible but also indispensable. Some disciplines already offer, if only partially, useful contri butions to this notion. For example, systems research has developed formal methods to simplify the so-called large-scale systems. Similar procedures can and must be initiated for the design of complex systems which cannot be completely formalized, such as the envi ronment. In fact, intrinsic to design action is the determination of the limits of individual design problems and the choosing of those aspects to analyze and design. Put in other words, the determina tion of priorities and hierarchies is a fundamental characteristic of the design process. In this sense, we can talk about the relative complexity of the environment, meaning by this that the real level of complexity depends on the individual environmental problem considered, on the objectives and on the design methods. Pertinent to this is the example adopted by Ross W. Ashby: The brain has a very high complexity for a neurophysiologist. The same brain can be described by a butcher, who has to distinguish it from about thirty other cuts of meat, with not more than five bits.

 

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Environmental Design and Industrial Design: Integrating Knowledge around Urgent Issues Essay
Artscolumbia
Artscolumbia

The connection between environmental design and industrial design is, by now, generally accepted.1 Yet, when one considers the merits of the relationship, it becomes clear that there are certain aspects which require refinement and elaboration. This is particu- larly evident if one considers how disciplinary practices are currently defined within the separate fields. Actually, it is environ mental design which requires further reflection as well as develop ment of

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Environmental Design and Industrial Design: Integrating Knowledge around Urgent Issues Essay
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