|Products, specifically from the point of
view of designers, can be considered as texts in a hitherto rather unknown
product language. In analogy to these 'texts' we might consider the details
of products, or the equivalent functional area's, as 'words' and their
topological organization as a syntax in this three-dimensional language.
It is on the level of these three-dimensional signs that I suggest the
semiological analysis of products. These signs have, as all signs, a signifier
or expressive aspect and a meaning or significating side. We will consider
here the first aspect, the form of products, their signifying components,
in a special morphology that reveals eventually, as we will see, a pragmatically
insight in the nature of the seductive power of design.
Merrell, in his analysis of semiosis as a process of progressive acquisition
of meaning of signs, has made a significant step in the direction of the
definition of three-dimensional signs:
"The products of three-dimensional semiotics from within human bio
temporality can be related to... 'homeomorphic' (iconic) models.... 'Homeomorphic'
models are intuited, developed, and perceived chiefly from within
the domain of secondary qualities, of what is on the surface to be seen
and sensed in terms of relatively immediate and less immediated sensations.
These items of experience, rather than mere two-dimensional surfaces, are
actually three-dimensional entities the intuition, conception, creation
and perception of which move along one-dimensional trajectories 'world
lines' in three dimensional space."(1)
In this statement Merrell points rightly at the unavoidable semiotic and
plural level of perception of signs in space-time and lays, in a more general
context, a realistic foundation for the morphological section of design
theory. In particular in homomorphic models signs develop in the 'domain
of secondary qualities' that is, in conformity with peircean semiotics,
on the level of signs as homepages, that is not the primary level of iconicity
of pure appearance, nor the superior level of symbolicity, but within the
semiotic process, on the level of signs "without their being any conscious
and intentionally established relation to the type of which they are an
indication". As a matter of fact forms of design objects are, even if they
are the result of technical or ergonomic reasoning, essentially 'free'
interpretations or conscious representations in time space. This
is particularly true of the so called details of the product because the
relation to recognizable 'functions' tends to be of minor importance
than their mere formal expression. "God is in the details" said Aby
Warburg. Details are in design what "Denkbruchstuecke", thought fragments,
mentioned by Walter Benjamin,
are in relation to the reiteration of philosophical contemplation.
"Their value is the more decisive the less they can be directly correlated
to the basic concept'. They are the actual deposits of 'true' meaning,
asserts the german philosopher. (2)
Sign complexes are also the subject of René
Thom's theory on structural stability and morfogenesis, a general mathematical
theory of the description, classification and development of forms in nature.
And nature, as a reference, is since D'Arcy
Thompson always in our gnonoseologic perspective.
Thom considers morfogenesis in its local dynamic situation as the more
or less probable behavior of sets of points. This behavior can be classified
in a limited number of topological models, each type characterized by one
or more different 'attractors', or probable stable configurations. An object
is thus a closed sub-set or complex of points in space-time.
As an example we can take any detail of a product such as a lid, a hinge,
a knob, a handle, a ventilation opening, a display, etc. The relative area's
are sets of points with a common functional goal but with infinite feasible
formal variations. It is this freedom that makes design altogether possible.
The three-dimensional surface is created by sets of points organized along
'lines' that reveal preferences. These can be, for example, a predilection
of symmetrical motives or geometric solids, patterns of growth in nature
or any others. A classification of these patterns is possible by analyzing
the principles of their topological formation. Actually a whole new section
of topology is under construction as 'chaos theory' in which giant (perhaps
sometimes overvalued) steps has been made, in the wake of Bénoit
Mandelson, in the revelation of mechanisms, fractals, that underlie dynamic
systems such as the living organism or the turbulence of gases or liquids.
Essentially it proves that any process, even seemingly random ones, can
be described by mathematical algorithms, that in reiterated application
are capable to generate complexity as two-dimensional combinations
of intrinsically simple, one-dimensional, classifiers, or selective 'if...then'
In our case we talk about the creation of surface area's, or membranes,
containing myriad's of points that follow certain patterns of common similar,
if not identical, 'behavior' that are, in other words, subject to 'attractors',
such as concaving or convexing, protruding or penetrating, deviding or
connecting, bending or undulating, stretching or contracting following
the concept of the designer. Any of these and many other verbs that describe
actions in space, or gestures, are descriptive of the grammar of design
language and, in accordance to chaos theory, combinations of relatively
simple linear sets of points, or lines.
Moreover these lines and the membranes that they describe, being signs
or combinations of signs, do have meanings. But these meanings are completely
different from the more evident meanings concerning products as protheses
and area's of products as expression of functions. They belong, as I see
it, rather to forgotten archaic languages, as Ur-omens, in use by man since
primordial times, long before invention of written language. as we can
see from archeological reperts and as remnants of so-called primitive languages.
Line segments, straight or bend, either horizontal, vertical or inclined,
single or in repetition, circles, crosses, chevrons, serpentines, spirals:
they all were actually signs in this original sacred language, that were
materialized during the Antique Neolithic Era (VIIth - IIIrd millennium
b.C.) onwards, both as in- scriptions on all kinds of surfaces, precursors
of our characters and numerals, and as manufacts that were called by the
ancient greeks 'xoanon', figurines. Marija
Gimbutas, in the wake of Johann
J. Bachofen traces these artifacts back into even earlier archaic times
and suggests that they represent mostly a female life giving and life taking
bird goddess, source of all life and of the entire universe.
statuine of a neolythic goddess (from the cover
of Gimbutas' book)
This suggests a the existence of a common source of divine representations,
artifacts and even written language. It is in these remote origins
that lies, in my opinion, the secret of our esthetic feeling, maybe scattered
in incongruous bits, broken vessels,
but still powerful in its subconscious presence; perhaps even because of
Design morphology seems to lead us back through Euclidean geometry
past a variant of biological taxonomy adapted to artifacts, towards the
deeper nature of art as a manifestation of the eternal human need for transcendence.
Perhaps we can say of design what Baudelaire said of temples:
Where man passes through forests of symbols
That takes us back to or starting point , "The
semiosis of Design"
That observe him with familiar looks.
and, as we will see, to the theoretical analysis
of its fundaments.
Berhard E. Bürdek, "Design:
Storia, teoria e prassi del Disegno Industriale", Mondadori, Milano, 1992
(Köln, 1991) (ritorna
Hans Ulrich Reck, "From "Invisible Design"
to Invisible Design. Challenges the Media Pose for a Contemporary Design
Theory", ne formdiskurs. Journal of Design and Design Theory, 1,I/1996,
p.46 (ritorna al testo)
D'Arcy W.Thompson, "Crescita e forma",
(1917), Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 1992 (ritorna
cfr. René Thom, "Stabilité
structurelle et morfogénèse", InterEditions, Paris, 1977
(1972), p.8: "La construction d'un modèle quantitatif global...reste
évidemment l'idéal qu'on doit s'efforcer d'atteindre; mais
la chose peut être difficile, voire impossible;...même si l'obtention
d'une dynamique d'évolution globale n'est pas possible, on n'en
aura pas moin une intelligence locale bien améliorée du processus."
Gilbert Durand, "Le strutture antropologiche
dell'immaginario", Dedalo, Bari, 1972, p.398 (PUF, 1963) (ritorna
Walter Benjamin, "Studi sulla filosofia metafisica-storica",
(1916) G.W.II,1, p.156 (ritorna
Marija Gimbutas, "Il linguaggio della Dea.
Mito e culto della Dea madre nell'Europa neolitica.", (1989), Neri Pozza,
Vicenza, 1997 (ritorna
Tra i tentativi significanti di formulazione di un linguaggio iconico
vorrei menzionare quello di Claud Cossette, che si può trovare nello
sito seguente (in lingua francese): http://dionysos.ulaval.ca/ikon/finaux/1-texque/imadem/IMADEM.HTML