Character revisited 00

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We live in a human-made world, driven by the complex relationship between the natural and artificial. This relationship is defined in terms of technological advances and people’s individual and social interactions with nature. Technology has been affecting people’s lives prominently since the 19th century, beginning with the industrial revolution and the emergence of mass production techniques, and continued with the invention of computers. Technology, apart from all high level advances, changed the basic aspects of human life, including individual, transportation, communication, home, and social life. All these changes transform how people make choices and how they act, but at the core of human nature, there remains character.

Individual and the social aspects of human characterize our nature. A human being can be classified into body and soul, where the soul consists of states of character, passions, and faculties (Aristotle). States of character are determined by the actions resulting from free will and choice. In this sense, the relation between the natural and artificial is determined by the states of character; the man-made world is a reflection of human nature onto the world.

States of character consists of moral and intellectual virtues. Design as the act of making, is an intellectual virtue. Designer designs a product by taking action in order to reach some good; he puts emphasis on the means while foreseeing the end. Formal, material, efficient, and end cause are what he considers while making choices and taking actions. How the artificial world effects, and is effected by the character will be highlighted with the following selections. It begins with the individual, and continues with the home, transportation, and communication.

Individual – Swiss Knife

A soldier needs to survive in a nomadic field experience. He needs different apparatuses in different contexts. He has limited space for all those different tools; he needs an ‘all in a nutshell’ product. That is a Victorinox Swiss (Fig1) knife first used in the Swiss army in 1897, with 16 blades and 29 functions. It is designed for optimum efficiency and maximum functionality. The character of the product depends on the efficient and final causes. The designer makes a choice to use the conception of pocketknife as his beginning point, and then constructs his whole idea by using springs and physical rotation and fixation of the features in different angles. He created physical affordance in any one of the closed states to help the soldier to use his finger toe. When all the features are closed the object is nothing more than a red knife handle. When the product was released, it became one of the prosthesis of the soldiers. The product mediates a persona for each of the function it serves: the soldier becomes a mechanic when he uses the screw, a manicurist when he uses the toe-rasp, a skillful craftsman when he uses a bunch of its features. The Swiss knife is by character both changing and unchanging. The conception of the product by the society gained new meanings when the same product reached different community of uses. For example, the character of the product helps a teenager to construct a new identity around the product. He identifies himself as a soldier or as a craftsman who is fully equipped.

Home – Dyson Vacuum Cleaner

A restless mother always complains about the maintenance of the vacuum-cleaner bag. A designer sees the maintenance of the vacuum cleaner as his problem space, and develops the Dyson vacuum cleaner (Fig 2). The idea is to use the cyclical motion of an engine in a way to perform suction without a bag as a new way of processing dust. The designer accepts the formal conception of the cleaner and does not change it a lot. The motivation is simply to make the maintenance of the cleaner easier and the performance higher. The invisibility of the dirtiness, and the tidiness of the processing are expressed in a transparent Plexiglas body design. The function is the determinant of the form. The character of the product changes the cleaning habit of its user. Character is reflected upon to the action of the user.

Transportation – VW Golf

‘Volkswagen’ means public car in German. It emerged from the period between the two World Wars and became well known with its streamlined Beetle model. The idea behind the Beetle was to produce a car for low-income families. While Beetles had become phenomena in the sixties, VW Golf (Fig 3) came up at the beginning of the seventies. It differs from the Beetle in its target audience, which is an intermediate audience who enjoy the driving experience in a more sportive manner while they can still use Golf in daily life context. Golf’s standing point is more than function. People would love their Golf, and find character traits in their car. So what makes Golf a car full of character? According to Aristotle, the states of character are hard to name in general, but the traces of character can be told by looking at its means and ends.

Golf’s formal quality refers back to the early modernism and Bauhaus understanding that can be crystallized by the ‘less is more’, and ‘ornament is a crime’ aphorisms. In this sense, Golf is a continuation of German functionalism. It has the stamina and a high attitude of performance, while its formal quality is neutral and flexible enough to give the owner a chance to express his/her own emotions. The car evolves from a machine to prosthesis of its owner. In addition, the social aspect of the car has been defined by the decision of the doors. If the designer offers a one-door option, the car suggests individualism and a sportive persona. If the designer suggests a five-door option, the car becomes a social space and welcomes people. Golf defines a modern, efficient, socially and individually aware user in its social acceptance. Its production story is not a retro-design experience. All of its five generations give the cue of the unchanging and changing aspects of its character. The latest model with more curvy lines gives the flavor of the zeitgeist and seems to be a strong choice of change, but its formal change supports its core idea, which is being fast and steadfast enough.

Communication – Google Blogging software tool

Writing is a need for many people. It’s a way to express their thoughts in a representational world. Writing a diary is the most reflexive way of writing. The shift from an intimate individual diary to an online diary is a new phenomenon of the highly computerized era. The diary concept transforms itself to an online open space where people can find acquaintances, communities, and friends. The root of individual expression in the virtual world has begun with the individual web pages. People use words, images, videos, and sounds to design their home (page) in a server town located in a virtual world. The idea was great, but the problem is that not everyone gets the chance to update their home frequently, and gradually they became a forgotten and outdated entity. The emergence of blogs, in this sense, can be seen as a transformation of the home page perception. People update their blogs regularly, and use other mediums like photography, motion picture, and sound as well. The character of writing is both changing and unchanging. It is changing because people now have the flexibility to write visual and sound diaries around specific themes, It is unchanging because writing still has its defined structure and grammar. There should be a theme, with a title, a beginning, a body and an end. By time, people formed blogging search tools, blogger communities and portals.
Selections from the artificial worlds give us the cues about the interaction between human nature, and the artificial. The interaction is motivated and stimulated by the states of character. States of character as Aristotle claimed are hard to name, but the traces can be followed based on the means, objects, and ends. Design that focuses on the interaction should follow these traces to shape products with character.