Left To Our Own Devices

Johan Redström
Center for Design Research



At times it appears as if 'artifacts' are best described as 'not nature' - but even at that, the boundary begins to blur as we consider developments in areas such as genetics and biotechnology where biology and design begin to merge. The realm of artifacts has grown, and so have notions of what they are and could be. Our world is becoming ever more an artificial one, understood as 'made by' rather than 'given to' us. Research is no longer - if ever- about describing what is, but increasingly about exploring what could be - and in many cases therefore also what will be. And so, the subject of design, that of "the initiation of change in man-made things" as J. C. Jones put it, has expanded - how could it not?

Seen from inside, the design space of man-made things has grown beyond our scale in all directions. We create things, such as molecules, in the laboratories that exist for such short time spans they are on the very threshold of existence. We create stuff that will be around for longer than we will exist, perhaps even as a species. And with miniaturisation of technology, we create things at a scale far smaller than we can relate to with our own senses. No wonder this expansion of the subject of design causes difficulties.

In what follows, I will speculate a bit about the 'made' part of the notion of 'man-made things', as this development seems to imply some changes also to how we may think of acts of design and use.


In Artifact, Journal of Virtual Design, Vol. 1. Routledge.


© 2006

johan redström