lia petronio

visual and language arts

Category: Design

Analogy of Distraction: Response to Oliver Reichenstein’s iA articles, particularly Improving the Digital Reading Experience

Oliver is very convincing in his dialogues about type design for digital screens, and more specifically digital reading experience on the iPad. He argues that the digital realm is not an extension of the paper as it is ideally an extension of human thought. Paper has set dimensions where as the iPad may be infinite in scale beyond its black frame. The screen is far too different to be treated and handled like a piece of paper and so paper typographers are untrained in designing for the digital realm, and therefore, are doing the digital reading experience no justice. Columns are for paper, not the iPad. A good digital reading experience requires less attention on the design and interaction and more attention to the reading. Fancy design layouts must be sacrificed to create a smoother reading flow, which means less jumping around the screen or site, less distractions, and longer concentration for the user. A topic I find most interesting is brought up in Oliver’s Improving Digital Reading Experience. He brings about the idea of humane functions in computers. He says, “As long as our tools are recognizable as analogies of our body, the form and function of these tools are easily comprehensible.” Just as “text editors are an analogy of type writers, type writers are an analogy of writing with pen and paper, writing with pen and paper is , initially, a substitute for memory.” So, generally, a computer is an extension of our head which controls the tools, and the tools are analogies of analogies. With this said, what happens when the computer does not function as an extension of our minds, when it no longer relates to our physical function? A tool that is analogous to our bodies may empower us, where as a tool that is not, likely is not a tool at all, nor an empowerment. To this regard, social media is a not-tool of a particular relationship. For example, Twitter is a site in which you can select a button to ‘follow’ people, of whom you do and do not know. What is the act of ‘following’ an extension of in relation to our bodies? Perhaps physically following a person to see what they do and where they go? Perhaps even what they are thinking? Does this virtual realm of information allow us to enter peoples minds passively, where we would otherwise need to actively and physically engage in the person in order to retrieve his or her individual thoughts? How does this tool empower ourselves? What is the benefit to knowing what people are doing in their everyday lives whereby in order to do so one must focus and browse through a screen in his or her everyday life, more or less frequent depending how addicted he or she is. Does this not-tool affect the frequency of our physical relationships with people who are physically around us? Does it displace users from their relationship to their physical environments and therefore create a dependency on the ‘tool’, which has no analogous function to the body or mind and therefore is not a tool? If the digital realm typically breaks analogies then it is no lounger a tool but a distraction.

Response to: Made to Measure by Allen Tan for Issue No. 4 & Default Systems in Graphic Design: a discussion between Rob Giampietro and Rudy VanderLans about guilt and loss in graphic design. By Lia Petronio

The two essays discuss the systematic implements of computer programs graphic and web design. The concept of “default” system is reoccurring, Rob describing its actuality and Allen providing a solution called “tailoring” or editorial design. This idea sort of agrees with Rob, in that is suggests a program that is made to be overridden. A way of designing, similar in process to consumer engineering, that is to be altered optimally. The thing is, however, that this still does not get so close to confronting the issues Rob brings forward about systems of the design programs themselves, such as InDesign, Illustrator, etc. So Allen’s case gets half way there with “tailoring” individual web pages to suit its own content, and creating a system that can be tailored conveniently. It is the tailoring that may still be individually subject to default systems of design, and therefore is but a small solution that will not satisfy those who think more radically and passionately. Allen makes logical points but it seems these points are not nearly innovative enough to empower design and the designer and free him from the grid, nor template design, which I believe is default by nature. It is skeletal and barren of the very empowerment design is in need of, if it is to ever break free from advertisemental cliché and democratic surrender. The democratization of art, and design, degrades it to a point of amateur visuals designed by anyone who can get others to agree to actually use it. From there the billboard effect comes into play, and the viewers become passive and the views become hollow enterprises, like the face of a dictator decorating the streets where air used to be. A classic way to address the conservation of safe democratic design, would be to analyze it from within. To begin with the program which today, is the heart of design. When are we defaulting? What is not default? What happens when design is separated from exterior content and becomes its own content?

A Virtual World; Finite Systems for Infinitum

Cyberspace is a real place. How close to reality must it become in order to be indistinguishable? If people are to enjoy virtual worlds more than the origonal world, can they stay there? It is evident the goal of virtual reality and cyberspace is to continue to evolve forever, or until it reaches a stage that requires something else entirely. When cyberspace becomes livable will people be responsible for their actions towards cyber people? Or cyber nature? Could people begin to go to work in these places? Could different realities be for different people with different ways and different government? Can you die in cyberspace? Can you experience feelings that are unfeelable? This type of virtual reality, on a simpler note, could allow for a whole new genre of art. Pursuing the motif of viewer to artwork/artist interaction this medium allows for the artist to express himself in ways previously unconceivable. But if the artist is not writing the program, but simply using it, is he less responsible for the artwork than otherwise? Being it takes decades for these programs to be developed, and they continue to build perhaps infinitely, this question may have a simpler answer. The artist is responsible for the product, which is the artwork. The program is an artwork in its own right; separate and interconnected to every product it produces. Products of the virtual programming are different from other artistic products. It is a different experience, one in which the viewer becomes completely and literally submerged in the work in the form of experience. In this way, the interactor is completely connected to the work. Because these technologies develop gradually, the audience becomes accustomed to the advances and do not feel alienation towards its capacity. Even if the interactor has no idea how the program functions he can enjoy it anyhow. The physical interaction and hyper-sensory experience of a cyberspace reality is enough to engulf the participants. It may ironically be a different case for the earlier invention of Harold Cohen’s AARON. Because this little robot creates drawings that recall primal visual language or doodles, there is juxtaposition between form and function. A robot, which serves as a futuristic icon, takes on the activity of a primal being, or even a human. In the cyberspace realities, the program does what a human cannot; reach the intangible, pursue function infinitely. In this case, cyberspace becomes exactly what it seems a computer should do, whereas the AARON does the opposite. I find this contrast between form and function magnificent. The activity of the robot is performative, unexpected, and visually compelling. Perhaps the doodles become more valuable when made by the AARON than if they were made by a human. Although the human made the AARON, they both become responsible for the outcome. Similarly, as Sol LeWitt created a process for an outcome and presented it in the form of directions, which a group of artists would follow. The directions were designed to have seemingly infinite variations, depending on the draftsmen’s decisions. In order to do this Sol LeWitt had to make the directions specific in some areas and open-ended in others. For example he designated a location for a point to be located in relation to the wall, such as to make a line from the center of the right edge of the wall to the point in the middle of the center of the top edge of the wall. Depending on the dimensions of the wall, this line would vary. He would also often specify the starting point of a line or shape, but not where it ends, leaving it up to the draftsmen and therefore allowing chance to become part of the final product. This is similar to the nature of AARON, in that it is developed from combinations of information that can be performed in almost infinite ways. Both are structures for spontaneous systems of action. Each drawing is fresh and self reliant, unraveling nature and turning it into something concrete and systematized to produce spontaneous results—like the universe.

Unavoidable Repition


Since its invention, the computer has increasingly become an essential part of this world. It is a device that runs on a language of its own, quantifiable only by its own doing. Of course, people wrote these programs, but ever since the invention of numerical representation, the computer has taken on a mind of its own. Numerical representation can be compared to the standardization of parts. Paradoxically it was thought that this would allow for “individual customization” rather than “mass standardization.” It is relatively unclear which has occurred. This is because it is interwoven so deeply into our lives. Computers have become virtual realities disguised as tools for our manipulation. Modularity has reduced data to its smallest element allowing for information to be dissected and manipulated without affecting other information. Information becomes self sufficient and free from hierarchical reins. Data is now non-linear, allowing for users to brows through information seemingly infinitely. This sounds like “individual customization,” but is it? Perhaps it would be if it was not pre-existing data the user is roaming through. Perhaps a software program that invented data only when it was in use would allow for true individual customization and free choice. The internet is so interlaced with the data of the physical world that is becomes indistinguishable. All activity on the web acts differently than activity in the real world. There is no decay, information is stored, analyzed, and used to determine future activity. Chance becomes manipulated. History is active and present is reactive upon it. By programming software to adhere to peoples past actions limits people to choices that confine them to calculations based on the past action, making customization impossible. If something is customized it is chosen from all possibilities, rather than subjective ones. However, this subjective nature of the computer is not much unlike our own. The difference is unified programming. If people wrote their own programs to create data through use, then the data would be free of mass subjectivity and be instead personally subjective. This would allow for individuality of the most extreme sorts. That is, if people need computers for this purpose. Would it be safer for a computer to be lucidly impersonal? Is the façade of personalization the danger to mass culture standardization? For example, older video games did not try to pass for real life. The difference between video game and reality was clear. With virtual reality games it is unclear how much responsibility players have in the outcome of the game. Players can feel empowered by the results they achieve because it is comparable to real life situations. But it is actually not, and this is where culture may become infected. It is when people feel personally attached to their technology and attempt to simulate life through it that culture becomes digitalized and therefore becomes part of the pre-programming through participation. The illusion of ‘personal customization’ as the product of interactive programming feeds society with the belief that they have excessive wants and only more pre-determined choices can free them from the boredom of less pre-determined choice. Perhaps if society was able to control its excessive material fetish, digitalization could allow for more accurate production of goods and services based on the needs of societies, converted to digital form that functions separate from human manipulation eventually allowing for people to cease capital labor. Could digitalism be more suitable for new media culture than an obese oligarchy?