The idea of consilience stretches back as far as Ancient Greece, reaching its apogee during the Enlightenment, when Western ideals sought to create an ordered system of human knowledge. This seeks to integrate knowledge gained from all scales: starting at the cosmological and peering down to the quantum with the cultural somewhere in the middle, seeking connections from one level to the next.
With the aim of unification between the humanities and the sciences, consilience became an unpopular word in the latter half of the 20th century. Beginning with CP Snow’s infamous 1957 lecture The Two Cultures in which he rallied against the growing rift between the two sides, the unity of knowledge seemed a hard task. As academic fragmentation and specialisation continued throughout the century, the chasm that emerged made the possibility of a unity of knowledge even more remote. The identity of the intellectual shifted towards the domain of the humanities, leaving the sciences to work in resentful obscurity. Design academia has been no different, seeking inspiration from the humanities and literary criticism while ignoring the ramifications of scientific breakthroughs in neuroscience, biology, cosmology and complexity theory.
This thesis will seek to remedy this problem by exploring the implications of some of these scientific breakthroughs on design theory, while respecting advances in the humanities as well. In recent years the idea of the third culture has arisen, with thinkers and scholars seeking to create a synthesis of the two sides into something far more relevant and powerful than a divided body of knowledge. I see design in all it’s facets as able to fit into this new category: ignoring the divide in search of something greater.
This thesis will seek to understand how changing scientific paradigms have shaped recent design practice, specifically that of logo and identity systems for cultural and public institutions. This will situate my argument within a broader view of human knowledge, acknowledging the desire for an all encompassing and inclusive body of knowledge.
The framework I will use to explore the recent shifts in design practice is based on the relationship between how a society has viewed and understood the heavens and the correlation to structural elements of that society. Three models of cosmology have shaped social, political and cultural models across three time periods; these time periods are considered epochal within Western Society and thus serve to punctuate the differences between them. While briefly mentioning the first period as having spanned from Ancient Greece to the Middle Ages I will then focus on the distinction between a Newtonian view of the universe to one ruled by Einstein and Darwin. By focusing on the distinction between the Newtonian worldview and one formed by beginning with Einstein’s model of the universe I will illustrate how we are moving away from a world view that sees the world as one governed by static entities to one ruled by a dynamic network of relations. The effects of an ontologically relational universe will illustrate how reductionist modes of thought will not provide new fields of knowledge. This new framework serves as the basis for a new mode of being, overturning individualism towards a more inclusive and holistic view of the self. Only by understanding how fundamental component elements interact with each other can an epistemological framework begin to understand how the natural sciences can and are moving forward. By looking at systems of order arising as a result of simple interactions between many elements, the universe can be seen as operating in an algorithmic fashion. It is through this algorithmic and computational theory of the universe that systems of evolution can be seen to work at even larger scales than previously thought. If no order can be imposed onto the universe through a top-down approach, the only way that order can arise is through a process of bottom-up emergence. This emergence can only operate between the opposing morphological structures of rigid crystalline structures and atmospheric gases. Situated between these contrasting configurations is complexity, providing dynamic interactions to create even higher levels of complexity.
I will use this firm ontological basis as a means of exploring the framework for what I and others see as the main cultural components of the early 21st century. I will refer to the work John Galanter who uses Complexity Theory as a framework for articulating the differences between the structured hierarchy of Modernism to the disorder, random and relative values of Postmodernism.Galanter situates Complexism as a response to these two polar time periods by arguing that our era is not dictated by hierarchy or collapse, but by networks of connections as a means of creating structure. Instead of Absolute or relative values, distributed values that rely on their context to dictate worth. Instead of authority and contention, feedback.
The second response to a perceived end of Postmodernism as the dominant cultural authority is Andrew Blauvelt’s theory of Relational Design. This theory brings the focus of the thesis into design practice, serving as the basis in which to narrow down the field of enquiry. Blauvelt views the 20th and 21st century as consisting of three waves, moving from form to content to context. Design and art begun by focusing on the creation of a universal visual syntax and continued by exploring it’s semantic and meaning making potential in the last quarter of the 20th century. Only by exploring the pragmatic and practical concerns can there be a potential for a new ethos. Blauvelt outlines the main components of Relation Design by looking at the changing role of the Designer, the underlying philosophy as it pertains to language theory, the logic and cultural values of Relational Design as well as the process in which design is created and received. These components will be explored as a means of providing the context in which design operates today. This thesis will focus on the process of design through the three distinct components he describes and use these to frame each case study. I will explore how the use of contingency and context are used to alter the colours of the logo system for the Casa de Musica, a music hall in Portugal. This logo responds to the immediate design environment in which it is viewed, primarily on posters advertising events at the music hall. The second case study will explore how the use of generative systems were used to create a seemingly infinite amount of logos for the media and arts festival Lovebytes. This process uses parameters to allow the designers to create a large variety of possibilities in which they are able to refine towards the finished product. The third case study looks at how the network is able to influence aspects of a dynamic typeface used for the twin cities of St. Paul and Minnesota. By using environmental factors such as temperature or wind strength the typeface displays the city through non semantic and symbolic values. By limiting the case studies to logos this thesis will be able to explore these simple elements as a means of exploring the broader shifts in design practice. The use of simple reductive devices that are used to portray a wide variety of meanings provides a clarity that would not be provided by more complex and detailed design objects. Each of these three case studies will allude to the shift in scientific paradigms, as a means of situating them within the broader field of human knowledge.