Looking

Over here. Look!


Looking is a good thing to do sometimes. For instance, look at this Sainsbury's Own Brand product design for teabags from the 1960s.

‘Looking’ might seem to be the work of one sense but we mean two here. One, the very literal (i.e. looking through our eyes and describing and discussing shape and balance and formal qualities) and the other more abstract and conceptual where it might mean something more like intellectually surveying.

In Emotional Design (2004),Don Norman suggests that design operates at three-levels of processing (when it comes to human-beings at least): visceral, behavioural and reflective. The visceral level is "fast: it makes rapid judgements of what is good or bad, safe or dangerous, and sends appropriate signals to the muscles (the motor system) and alerts the rest of the brain'. This is perhaps something akin to the level of affect. The behavioural level sits between the other two levels and although still not conscious and reflective is the level of ingrained, embodied habit. Finally, the reflective level is the level of conscious and intellectual thought and of self-reflexive memory.

With this model in mind, it is probably right to state that Materials is more concerned with surveying or describing what it looks at than reflecting too much on what such designs might signify more broadly. We're interested in articulating the visceral and the behavioural aspects of design AND the more reflective realm rather than allowing the intellectual realm to dominate. Hopefully this will help to highlight the kinds of tacit aspects that are sometimes not given the attention that they deserve. This is not to say that we are not concerned with the intellectual or the critically aware at all but only that the first two are our main areas of interest.