A Cognitive Aesthetic for Everyday Design

Interesting article in the recent issue of the e-journal  Cognition & Culture titled The Logic of Disorder: A Dynamic View of Cognitive Aesthetics by S. Schartman, who states (from the abstract):

In observing various patterns of organization I have come to a . . . conclusion that there is a neg­entropic drive towards order . . . (and) an entropic drive (germinating from human phenomenology) towards chaos . . . along an order/disorder axis.  As these drives follow along this continuum in opposite directions a tension, or force dynamic relationship is created  . . . that results in aesthetic appeal or dynamism and is a discrete character of the cognitive underpinnings of the aesthetic experience.

Schartman provides examples of how the effects of this “force dynamic relationship” can be seen at work in numerous artistic works, but I think that this is a good model of, shall I call it, an aesthetic impulse that has much wider analytic application to everyday life and many everyday activities.  (I think Schartman might agree with this interpretation, but she only specifically addresses artistic, not everyday works.) That this model provides a useful analysis is especially true in light of what has been called the experience economy, the wide application of design thinking, and the idea of pull platforms.  I think this model of aesthetics can be a useful mode of analysis when superimposed on other interpretations of what is happening in the world.  (Note; I’m not thinking of order /  disorder as good / bad, but rather as the raw material / experience (phenomena) out of which an aesthetic mode can be used as a way to create one’s life.)

Example 1, Hagel Brown & Davison’s concept of “Pull”.

Previous management methods primarily strove to help organizations improve performance by increasing order and predictability.  The problem, as Hagel et al point out; this method’s progress seems to have peeked in that further performance improvements have been conforming to a decreasing returns curve.  Hagel et al point out that things are swinging away from the idea that increased order = performance improvement.  We’re heading towards the idea that performance is now being driven by open networks where progress is ruled by serendipity.  He is not advocating for chaos, but his method of “pull” could be described as a method for creating the conditions where an aesthetic experience can occur, an experience that better uses the order / chaos tension to generates innovation and progress.

Example 2 – The proliferation of design thinking in many disciplines.

I’ve spoken before of the application of design principles to many different situations not usually thought of as amendable to a design aesthetic.  I gave examples for why I thought  this was occurring including the following:

  • The design of our world is not just for decoration, the design of the world (like Peirce’s semeiotics) reflects who we are and who we are reflects the design of the world.
  • Tools (artifacts, concepts, theories, etc. . .) are needed to act on the world.  Science is not just about experiments.  It’s also about developing innovative, new cognitive artifices that bring new understanding about the world, help us to act in new ways and can become aesthetic instruments for conducting and creating our lives.

Example 3 – The Experience Economy

For much of human history, securing sufficient food was a major problem that was solved by the agricultural revolution.  Securing shelter and clothing was a problem solved by the industrial revolution.  These material concerns are being commoditized and what constitutes their quality is determined by the experiences they help us create in our lives.  Therefore, the quality of our life can be seen by the quality of our experience, especially in the aesthetics of our everyday experience.  The struggle between order and chaos can be viewed as the backdrop for the creative development as the artist of our own lives.

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