The poetics of everyday objects : a theoretical and practical investigation into the materiality and embodiment of meaning in designed objects, with special reference to furniture and product design practice after 1988
This practice-based PhD thesis begins with a question prompted by a noticeable shift, both visual and conceptual, in design trends observed in the European design industry from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Did this shift reflect designers' intuitive response to the present conditions of material culture? If so, what could be learnt from their response to it? Using the perspective of a 'reflective practitioner', the ideas and thoughts underpinning design that are manifested in material form as design products are critically investigated. The investigation unravels a problem of design, and of objects, in consumer society. Many of the designers who characterised the period examined were concerned with a mode of production and consumption, where despite the technological progress and increased material wealth, the quality of the relationship between objects and users seemed to be in decline. This investigation locates design in a socia-cultural sphere, as design and its objects have a strong link to the everyday experience of the material environment. The thesis explores the values that were proposed by designers as particularly important as an antidote to the 'problems of objects'. The 'materiality' of functional objects is identified as a key feature observed in design concepts seeking to provide a more meaningful experience of design objects. The investigation then attempts to reveal what is behind this renewed atlention to the 'thing itself. Further investigation into the relationship, or 'tension', between practice and theory, suggests that the theorisatian of design in the proceeding periods has led itself away from objects' materiality. Increasingly, design objects are being produced as signs or representation of ideas. The thesis then explores the 'communicative' and 'performative' capacities of objects that invite users to engage with the objects' physical quality a,nd/or characteristics. Identifying the 'poetic' dimension of everyday experience as a design resource, it further discusses the 'expressive character of material culture'. The practice element of this research offers a bridge between multiple forms of thought process and analysis: in terms of objects, images and drawings, and words. Contextualisation of the practice, and a critical analysis of what is inherent in the practice of design and craft, help guide the theoretical part of the critical investigation into contemporary design practice, and the role the 'materiality' plays in design. The knowledge in practice revealed in this research offers a new perspective to understanding material culture, and encourage further exploration of the possibilities of design in creating a more engaging and meaningful user-object relationship.