Character Revisited

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Character in its etymological definition means distinctive quality of its subject matter. Subject matter can be defined in a wide spectrum from inanimate objects to human beings. In context of human beings, character is the quality or a combination of qualities that distinguish and make up the individual. Throughout the formation of thought in human made history, the qualities of the individual have been interpreted with phenomenal and transcendental aspects. Phenomenal interpretations focus on the qualities that can be observable by the senses and perceptions, whereas transcendental interpretations look at the qualities that can be extracted by materialistic and holistic aspects. Whether phenomenal or transcendental, human character has been explored thorough the relations that have been interweaving by human (individual, and social), nature and the artificial. The relations have been shaped by the interactions, impression, and expressions of these dynamics. In this argument, human character will be explored within the dynamics of the designer (individual), community of use (social), and the products (artificial).

Human character in material sense is driven by the instinctual motives. Instincts can be sensual or perceptional qualities that form the temperament types according to Keirsey. Keirsey based on the Jungian theory states that human beings take actions by and according to their temperaments. These are inborn qualities that can transform and change by use. He says even all people share the similar instincts, they differ in their preferences. He called this how human being ‘function’. Based on the differentiation for instance, he suggests the Dionysian temperament that loves to use tools. Tools become an extension of the self, augmenting, amplifying, and sharpening the effect of action. A Dionysian tempered designer can reflect his/her character upon the tools he/she designs. The Swiss knife is a highly individual and Dionysian type product that was designed in pocket size dimension and multi function for its wide uses. It provides different tools for different situations that will enhance the capability of it user. The community of use will be fragmented by its choice of the features and frequency of their use. (Fig 1)

Individuals are not alone in their lives. They need other individuals to continue their lives. Character is then not only shaped by the individual’s soliloquy but also interaction with others. Interaction can be defined as the performance that takes place with the presence of other (active) individuals and spectators in a specific context (Goffman). Individuals foresee the possibilities and necessities of their performance before they encounter the interaction. That results in the emergence of social roles. Individual’s character is a changing quality as the holder of several social roles based on diverse presences of life. These presences are described by other individuals, spatial and time-based events. Products play an important role in this type of character formation. They help individuals to hold and carry dissimilar roles in different situations. They also help them who they want to be rather than who they are. In this sense products play the role of a catalyst, perfection prosthesis for their contextual presence. The whole culture motivated by the brand identity phenomenon is constructed on this underlying fact of the character. Products reflect the roles people want to be implicitly or explicitly. An explicit example can be a mobile product that can be carried in daily life, or an implicit one can be a product that can be used periodically in the living room. A water bottle that is designed for use in sportive activities can be an explicit example. The real use of it is in the gym or stadium context. It helps the user to fulfill her/his thirstiness. In this context it supports an activity. On the other hand the use of the same product in the campus or class supports a performance, a social role of being an athletic person.(Fig 2)

Life sometimes is not a performance at all, and human beings do have habits that are not changing in every context. They do have habits to take actions with their free will and choice for reaching some good. The choice- and the decision making process has been grounded by the states of character that consist of intellectual and moral virtues. A designer while designing a product considers both virtues in balance to reflect her/his character upon the product. Then, a product with a habitual character is displaying both of the intellectual and moral virtues. A classical bike carries both the moral and intellectual virtues in itself. Its simple mechanism lets the biker to pedal the bike to the desired destination. The critical thing to ride a bike is maintaining the balance while moving forward. To learn how to ride needs a basic intellectual virtue. Having learned to bike, it gains a habitual character that is never forgotten. Using a bike can be seen as a moral virtue referring back to being sensitive to the environment. (Fig 3)

Human character is also shaped by the values and ethics of the society. The expectations of the society define the territory of the choices and the actions to be taken. The value system can be a secular, religious, national, ideological, or a humanistic system. The designer’s choice reflects the referring system. The i-believe and the Islamic cell phone are examples of the social aspect of the character. In the i-believe example the i-pod phenomena gains a new meaning by the use of a cap in a cruciform (Fig 4). It refers back to a strong Christian belief system and Crucifixion. The gained character of the product transcends the listening music experience. In the second example, an Islamic cell phone merges the conception of the cell phone and the daily prayer activity by using the functional (software) and formal (cover of a Koran) means. Both examples points out the social aspect of the character. (Fig 5)