Le temps de l'expérience, enchanter le quotidien par le design

Le temps de l’expérience, enchanter le quotidien par le design

Lévy, P. (2018). Le temps de l'expérience, Enchanter le quotidien par le design. Compiègne University of Technology, France

La cérémonie japonaise du thé est un moment d’expérience esthétique et éthique du quotidien, une harmonie entre objets, êtres, lieux et pratiques. Elle nous rappelle que les objets du quotidien, cœur même de notre culture matérielle, sont d’une beauté profonde et porteur d’une éthique admirable, et passent pourtant le plus souvent inaperçus. À la croisée d’une réflexion sur une approche « japonaise » en design au travers de l’étude du kansei, et d’une réflexion sur le design en IHM portée par les théories de l’embodiment, cette recherche interroge d’abord l’hégémonie culturelle occidentale du design en IHM, et établie ensuite un décentrage culturel de la discipline en prenant la philosophie et la culture japonaise comme théorie. Il en résulte un nouveau regard sur le design, autant en réception qu’en production, porté par une éthique de la relation, une expérience de l’ainsité, et une esthétique de l’irrégularité. Ce regard invite le design à enchanter le quotidien, lui proposant de considérer les détails de la réalité telle qu’elle est vécue, et de créer des moments d’inattendus, sources d’étonnement et de nouveaux possibles. Invitant donc à un décentrage culturel du design, cette recherche propose une approche originale pour un design du quotidien, et contribue à voir en lui une source esthétique et éthique majeure, pour développement de l’être, de sa sensibilité, et de ses valeurs.

Transcription de ma soutenance d’HDR

Je voudrais vous remercier d’être là aujourd’hui.

Je suis très heureux et honoré, de pouvoir soutenir mon HDR à l’Université de Technologie de Compiègne, et ce pour plusieurs raisons.

D’abord parce que l’UTC a mis au centre de son projet pédagogique en ingénierie les Technologies et Sciences de l’Homme, et a dédié une de ses filières au design industriel. Une vision dans laquelle je me retrouve totalement.
Mais aussi parce que c’est à l’UTC que j’ai commencé mes études et obtenue mon diplôme d’ingénieur en 2001.
C’est aussi par l’UTC que j’ai mis un premier pied au Japon, au travers de mon projet de fin d’étude en devenant responsable de l’innovation pour Décathlon au Japon.
C’est également à l’UTC que j’ai été initié à la recherche, sous la supervision d’Anne Guénand.
C’est également à l’UTC que j’ai rencontré pour la première fois en 2002 Prof. Yamanaka, dont j’ai eu l’honneur qu’il devienne mon directeur de thèse lors de ma thèse doctorale à l’Université de Tsukuba en Kansei Science obtenue en 2006.
C’est également à l’UTC que j’ai rencontré pour la première fois en 2003 Prof. Overbeeke, de l’Université de Technologie d’Eindhoven. Lors de mes visites en Europe, je n’ai cessé de rendre visite à l’UTC et à TU/e, me plongeant dans une réflexion sur le design et les théories liées à l’embodiment. Et en 2009, j’ai eu l’honneur de devenir assistant professor à TU/e dans le groupe de recherche Designing Quality in Interaction alors dirigé par Prof. Overbeeke.
Par la suite, une fois installé à TU/e, des collaborations ont continuées avec l’UTC, et notamment sur les sujets de la perception croisée et de la substitution sensorielle avec Prof. Lenay.

C’est donc dans une forme de continuité que je suis heureux de soutenir mon HDR aujourd’hui.

Plan

Ma présentation se structure en quatre parties.

Je vais d’abord expliquer mon approche en recherche au travers du design, approche qui structure mon activité.

Je vais ensuite présenter ce que j’appelle mon expérience japonaise, issue de mon expérience au japon et de mes réflexions sur le Japon, qui ont été déterminants pour un tournant de ma perspective sur le design.

C’est ce tournant que je vais ensuite expliquer, ainsi que ce qu’il a induit dans ma recherche.

Et finalement, je vais expliquer les conséquences de ce tournant pour le design, et notamment à propos des rituels du quotidien.

Recherche au travers du design

La recherche en design invite à une participation des compétences et de l’attitude du designer au sein de l’activité de recherche. La participation du design dans l’activité de recherche est pertinente si elle est accompagnée d’une réflexion associée à l’action, permettant la création de connaissances.

Cette recherche, liant action et réflexion, s’appuie sur la réflexion en action et sur l’action proposée par Schön (1983).
Cette approche est en adéquation avec les théories liées à l’embodiment, brillamment amenés au design par Dourish (2001).

La recherche au travers du design que je mène se structure principalement sur deux éléments :

  • La constructive design research qui invite à l’expérimentation de dispositifs conçus pour la recherche. L’ouvrage Research-through-Design (Koskinen et al., 2012) en est un marqueur majeur.
  • Le développement de l’outil de recherche des portfolios annotés proposé par Bill Gaver (2012), qui structure une analyse d’un corpus d’artefacts soit conçus dans le cadre du projet de recherche soit extérieurs à lui.

Le rôle du prototype est central dans cette approche, mais change de nature par rapport à celui pris classiquement en design : il n’est pas un modèle premier, proche de ce qui sera à produire en série, mais ce que Frens (2006) appelle une hypothèse physique, et Hengeveld (2011) une hypothèse expérientiable, un barbarisme très éloquent et qui correspond tout à fait au rôle du prototype.

Finalement, cette approche demande également un projet pour que le design puisse agir et contribuer à la recherche. Reprenant les termes de Sennett et les adaptant au design, Hummels qualifie cette demande de localisation de la question de recherche, qui peut alors être suivie par une réflexion en action permettant son questionnement, et une réflexion sur l’action pour un dépassement de la question de recherche au-delà du projet lui-même.

Telle est mon approche de recherche en design.

Expérience japonaise

Avant de devenir assistant professor à l’Université de Technologie de Eindhoven, j’ai passé à peu près 9 ans au Japon, essentiellement affilié à l’Université de Tsukuba, au laboratoire de Kansei Information Science, dirigé par Prof. Yamanaka, qui a également été mon directeur de thèse pendant mes études doctorales.

L’étude du Kansei a été pour moi un fil conducteur qui m’a permis d’avancer sur deux sujets fondamentaux dans ma recherche :

  • Un approfondissement de mon intérêt porté à la relation affective au monde vécu, ce qui m’a progressivement amené à m’intéresser aussi aux notions liées à l’embodiment.
  • Une curiosité personnelle et intellectuelle pour la culture japonaise, et pour ce qu’elle dévoile de la beauté du quotidien.

Concrétisation du beau

En particulier, je me suis intéressé à la Voie du Thé, qu’Okakura (1906) décrit dans son ouvrage célèbre Le Livre du Thé comme étant le culte du beau de l’ordinaire au quotidien. Et je me suis également intéressé à la cérémonie japonaise du thé, qui en est une expérience ritualisée mise en forme par Rikyu au XVIe siècle.

Pour illustrer ce que j’y ai vu, je voudrais prendre l’exemple d’un court moment de la cérémonie, illustré par la photo que vous voyez ici. Une fois que le thé léger a été servi, l’invité principal demande à l’hôte s’il peut contempler des objets utilisés pour le thé. L’hôte lui présente alors le chashaku et le chaire, le chashaku étant la petite spatule permettant de prendre le thé du chaire, qui est le conteneur du thé. Le diamètre de chaire est d’environ un tiers la longueur de chashaku. L’hôte pose le chashaku à deux nattes de distance du bord du tatami devant l’invité principal, et aligne le centre du chaire avec le centre du chashaku. Une fois que l’hôte s’est retiré dans la salle d’eau, c’est-à-dire la cuisine, l’invité se rapproche face aux deux objets, de façon à ce que ses genoux soient à deux nattes du chashaku. Assis en seiza, il pourra alors confortablement alors – dans un confort culturellement japonais – manipuler et contempler les deux objets présentés à lui.

Ce qui m’a impressionné ici est que Rikyu a réalisé une proposition esthétique d’harmonisation qui correspond à un système de valeurs (ne visant pas l’efficacité ou l’efficience), dans un souci esthétique, éthique et social, et qui permet la concrétisation du beau.

La cérémonie du thé comme design

Ce qui m’a amené à considérer que Rikyu (1522-1591) a transformé une proposition de valeurs, celles du bouddhisme et de l’étiquette wabi de son temps, en un système situé d’artefacts, d’acteurs sociaux, et de signes permettant une expérience engagée et sociale de ces valeurs.

Cette transformation repose sur le développement de la technologie de son temps répond à une attente sociale de son temps. Ce système est une proposition esthétique.

L’idée que la formalisation de la cérémonie japonaise du thé réponde à un « attente sociale de son temps » invite déjà à repenser le rituel non pas comme une répétition figée d’une séquence d’actions, mais comme une pratique du quotidien ré-interprétable en un temps et en un lieu.

De plus, la réalisation d’une proposition esthétique permet la mise en perspective de cette proposition esthétique par la pensée japonaise, et ouvre sur les notions de contexture et de la temporalité de l’expérience du quotidien, notions que l’on va questionner par la suite.

Mujirushi ryohin

Cette proposition esthétique se retrouve encore dans le design contemporain, comme par exemple chez mujirushi ryohin, plus connu sous le simple nom de muji. Si on analyse ce qui a été écrit sur la marque, ainsi que ce que les principaux acteurs qui ont participé au développement de la marque et du design – notamment Kenya Hara et Naoto Fukasawa – ont expliqué sur la philosophie et la vision de muji, on retrouve le plus souvent trois notions clés qui caractérisent le design de muji et semblent en adéquation avec des valeurs incarnées par la cérémonie japonaise du thé.

  • Le simple invite à considérer ce qui est évident ou essentiel, dépouillé de tout superflu.
  • L’ordinaire se penche sur ce qui apparait classique ou usuel, et utile à la vie de tous les jours. Cela invite également à une considération de l’habitabilité, notion chère à Alain Findeli.
  • Finalement, le vide concerne un espace de possibilités laissé ouvert par le design, à remplir par l’utilisateur (ou interactant) avec l’artefact, afin d’adapter la proposition de valeur à son lieu et à son temps au sein de son quotidien.

La proposition esthétique proposée par Rikyu se retrouve dans un design contemporain, celui de muji, et en l’occurrence ici un cuiseur du riz.

Tournant

À partir de cette observation sur le thé, et en observant un corpus d’artefacts issus du travail de designers contemporains japonais, cette proposition esthétique visant une forme d’harmonie entre valeurs, corps, gestes, etc. a provoqué un tournant dans mon regard sur le design.

En regardant la cérémonie japonaise du thé au travers de la lentille du design, j’y ai vu la cérémonie du thé comme prototypique d’un design basé sur la culture japonaise, ce qui a profondément secoué ma perspective sur le design.

J’ai donc retourné la lentille et regardé le design au travers de la lentille de la cérémonie du thé, et j’y ai vu une absence d’un cadre théorique permettant au design d’expliquer la cérémonie du thé. Et cette absence a alors laissé place à un manque à combler par un décentrage culturel du design.

Ce décentrage invite à redéfinir le rituel non pas comme une répétition à l’identique d’une séquence d’actions, mais comme une proposition esthétique qui permet d’être reconsidérer à chaque fois au quotidien.

Il apparait de plus que le rituel est à la fois social et singulier, et de plus toujours réinterprétable par ceux qui le proposent, les designers, et par ceux qui le vivent.

Le design est donc requestionné à l’aune du rituel, et le rituel est requestionné au travers du design.

Philosophie et culture japonaise

Pour réaliser ce décentrage, je me suis intéressé à la philosophie et la culture japonaise. Bien que je n’ai pas le temps ici de développer cette étude, je liste ici les principaux sujets sur lesquels mon attention s’est portée :

  • L’éthique de la relation de Watsuji, publiée en 1934 ;
  • La philosophie de Nishida (et un peu plus généralement de l’École de Kyoto) portant sur l’expérience, dont le principal ouvrage a été publié en 1911 ;
  • Les écrits de Dōgen sur le temps, datant du XIIIe siècle ;
  • Et le travail sur l’idée bouddhiste de la beauté développé par Yanagi et publié plus récemment en 1972.

Cadre pour le design

De cette étude, il en résulte que la proposition esthétique de la perspective japonaise étudiée ici se base sur deux axes sur lesquels le design peut agir :

  • L’ainsité, qui propose de porter le regard au-delà de l’interaction homme-machine, considérant un maximum d’éléments qui constituent le monde vécu, ainsi que leurs relations et l’harmonie globale. Elle suggère donc une méthode prenant le monde vécu comme point de départ, et non pas la relation homme-machine comme cela est classiquement fait, et visant une intégration harmonieuse de l’artefact conçu.
  • L’irrégularité propose une vision éthique pour le design du quotidien. Elle vise non pas une forme de perfection – très souvent considérée en design industriel–, mais la dépasse en se présentant comme une source de liberté et ouvrant des champs de possibles au sein de l’interaction.

Les deux photos présentées à gauche de l’écran sont, en haut, un motif de broderie conçu par Akira Minagawa en 2005, et en bas, un ensemble de manches de chasen (le fouet permettant de mélanger le thé pendant la cérémonie) imprimés 3D lors du projet de master de Shigeru Yamada que j’ai supervisé en 2016.

L’irrégularité dans le design de Minagawa consiste à faire un grand nombre de points de broderie au même endroit, si bien que la machine ne peut plus faire le point à l’endroit demandé à cause d’une trop grande densité de fil, ce qui fait que l’aiguille se tord pour pouvoir continuer à faire un point. Cela résulte en un ou plusieurs points de broderie réalisés dans un endroit non-planifié, et donc en une irrégularité.

Dans le cas du chasen, nous avons réalisé un manche de chasen basé sur un design paramétrique (la forme est décrite par une formule mathématique). Les six modèles sont réalisés par différentes vitesses d’impression. De droite à gauche, la première impression est faite à la vitesse standard de la machine, comme indiqué par le fabricant de la machine, puis 2, 3, 4 et 6 fois plus vite. Lorsque que nous avons montré ces manches de chasen à un groupe de maîtres du thé, considérés comme experts dans cette expérimentation, c’est le deuxième qui a été significativement le plus apprécié. Ce manche présente à la fois une possibilité d’être utilisé convenablement, et également une irrégularité subtile qui rend l’objet beau. On voit dans cette expérimentation que l’irrégularité est perçue comme belle.

La contexture du quotidien

Ce que l’ainsité et l’irrégularité m’ont permis est d’ouvrir à nouveau la question du quotidien et en particulier des rituels du quotidien. On questionne ici ce que les gens ressentent au quotidien, particulièrement au niveau esthétique. Les rituels sont justement un moment intéressant pour le design puisqu’ils donnent aux pratiques du quotidien un espace d’attention.

Or l’idée d’une proposition esthétique dont nous parlions tout à l’heure, nous renvoie à un regard esthétique de l’expérience dans l’ici-et-maintenant, et donc à ce que j’appelle une contexture.

Dans cet espace d’attention qu’est le rituel, il y a une texture, c’est-à-dire un travail sur la forme par l’organisation de l’espace, par le choix des objets, de la gestuelle et des pratiques… Cette texture est concrétisée par le rituel. Notre approche questionne donc la contexture livrée par la proposition esthétique du rituel et vise un équilibre qui permette une forme d’harmonie.

De plus le rituel comporte des aspects qui relèvent du social et du singulier. Pour le comprendre, il faut donc l’interroger à la fois sur ses aspects sociaux et singuliers. Pour saisir le singulier, cela fait environ deux ans que je demande à mes étudiants, qui ont des compétences suffisantes pour faire correctement des petits films de cette nature, d’en faire un sur un de leur propre rituels du quotidien. Ces films sont ensuite visionnés, discutés et analysés. Ceci est une méthode, parmi d’autres, visant à saisir des éléments constitutifs de l’expérience complexe, intime et implicite du quotidien, qui relèvent du singulier et qui visent une harmonie au sein de cette expérience.

La temporalité du quotidien

J’ai également mené une autre expérience visant à explorer un rituel du quotidien, et prenant pour objet sur mon chocolat chaud du matin. Ce que cette expérience a montré est que la question de la contexture, permettant donc d’aborder la proposition esthétique, questionne également nos valeurs temporelles, le plus souvent en opposition à l’efficience qui souvent en design industriel et en design d’interaction s’impose à toute question de la temporalité.
On se pose donc ici la question des valeurs de temps que l’on donne à ces expériences du quotidien.

Comment peut-on caractériser la temporalité du rituel, différemment de la théorie du flow par exemple, proposé par Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, visant lui aussi l’efficacité ? On vise ici une proposition esthétique qui questionne la temporalité, qui invite à prendre le temps : dans cette proposition, qu’est-ce qui valorise de s’arrêter pour écouter une musique, pour contempler un paysage, etc. C’est une autre question majeure ouverte par ce programme de recherche.

Enchanter le quotidien par le design

Ma recherche est donc une recherche en design, basée sur une contexture, un questionnement de la valeur temporelle, et un cadre théorique structuré sur l’ainsité et l’irrégularité.

Le but est d’utiliser la question de la contexture et de la temporalité, pour inviter la composition d’une expérience du quotidien. Et j’aime emprunter le propos de Bart Hengeveld, qui compare une telle composition à celle de la musique.

Cela se fait en résistance à la culture occidentale du design industriel, qui se focalise quasi-exclusivement sur l’efficience et l’efficacité, et qui semble résister à questionner l’émotion et l’irrégularité. La Design&Emotion Society, établie il y a une douzaine d’année et principalement portée par le Département de design industriel de l’Université de Technologie de Delft aux Pays-Bas, qui a d’abord bien fonctionnée, et qui est actuellement au point mort et en discussion pour comprendre ce qui fait que ça n’a finalement pas si bien fonctionner que cela. J’espère que cette recherche apporte une perspective originale au sein de cette discussion.

L’irrégularité est pour moi au centre de la démarche. L’irrégularité permet une absence de clôture, évite un design qui viserait une conduite réglée par une optimisation des moyens pour un but prédéterminé. Elle contribue à mieux comprendre le design, et à poser une épistémologie du design sur le fait qu’un dispositif totalement prévisible et régulateur – qu’il soit social, culturel ou technique – ne permet pas l’invention ou la transformation.

L’irrégularité nous empêche donc de tomber dans le piège d’une production industrielle visant la perfection et la reproduction à l’infini, et valorise l’idée de surprise, d’accident, d’ouverture sur des possibles, autant au niveau des processus de conception et de fabrication, qu’au niveau du résultat.

Et ce programme de recherche vise à enchanter le quotidien par le design.

Une dernière réflexion

Ceci m’amène à une dernière réflexion sur ce programme de recherche.

L’ouverture opérée par mon regard sur la cérémonie japonaise du thé au travers du design propose quelque chose d’autre au design. Elle questionne à nouveau le sujet et le lieu de la recherche en design : elle pose la question des rituels du quotidien.

La recherche en design doit être réappropriée par un design proche de la pensée de l’Art&Craft et des arts décoratifs, c’est-à-dire d’une pensée qui se penche sur les arts de vivre, et qui nous renvoie des valeurs esthétiques et des propositions d’équilibre pour l’expérience sensible. Cette ambition de proposer des équilibres a plutôt été oubliée dans la recherche actuelle en design – et je me réfère ici aux communautés de recherche dont je fais partie, à la savoir le SIGCHI et la DRS – qui vient plutôt du design industriel et visant une forme de perfection, c’est-à-dire une fin de toute réinterprétation.

Le design doit avoir pour objectif de proposer des arrangements esthétiques visant des propositions d’harmonie entre artefacts, espaces, gestuelles, valeurs, etc., et non pas exclusivement de promouvoir l’efficacité et l’efficience, effort pourtant dominant dans la recherche en design actuelle et particulièrement dans les lieux d’enseignement technologique.

J’y vois donc une forme de résistance au fonctionnalisme, si bien installé dans la culture de la recherche en design, inspirée par le design industriel.

Ce qui est important pour un tel design est l’enchantement du quotidien, c’est-à-dire une attention pour un arrangement esthétique harmonieux rendu visible par la contexture : requestionner des normes qui ne le sont plus par le design, chercher un équilibre esthétique global dans le quotidien permettant l’expérience du beau.

Je vous remercie.

Transcription of my defense for Habilitation

I would like to thank you for being here today.

I am very happy and honoured to be able to defend my HDR at the Compiègne University of Technology, for several reasons.

First of all, because UTC has put Technologies and Human Sciences at the centre of its pedagogical project in engineering, and has dedicated one of its educational programme to industrial design. A vision in which I find myself completely.
Also because it was at UTC that I started my studies and obtained my engineering degree in 2001.
It was also through UTC that I set foot in Japan, through my final year project by becoming head of innovation for Decathlon in Japan.
It was also at UTC that I was introduced to research, under the supervision of Anne Guénand.
It was also at UTC that I first met Prof. Yamanaka in 2002, and I had the honour of having him become my thesis director during my doctoral thesis at the University of Tsukuba in Kansei Science obtained in 2006.
It was also at UTC that I first met Prof. Overbeeke, from the Eindhoven University of Technology, in 2003. During my visits to Europe, I never stopped visiting UTC and TU/e, immersing myself in a reflection on design and theories related to embodiment. And in 2009, I had the honour of becoming an assistant professor at TU/e in the Designing Quality in Interaction research group then headed by Prof. Overbeeke.
Later, once settled in TU/e, collaborations continued with UTC, particularly on the subjects of cross perception and sensory substitution with Prof. Lenay.

It is therefore in a form of continuity that I am happy to support my HDR today.

Plan

My presentation is structured in four parts.

I will first explain my approach to research through design, an approach that structures my activity.

I will then present what I call my Japanese experience, which comes from my experience in Japan and my reflections on Japan, which has been decisive for a turning point in my perspective on design.

It is this turning point that I will then explain, as well as what it has led to in my research.

And finally, I will explain the consequences of this turning point for design, and in particular about everyday life rituals.

Research through design

Design research invites the participation of the designer’s skills and attitude in the research activity. The participation of design in the research activity is relevant if it is accompanied by a reflection associated with the action, allowing the creation of knowledge.

This research, linking action and reflection, is based on reflection in action and on action proposed by Schön (1983).
This approach is also in line with embodiment related theories, brilliantly brought to design by Dourish (2001).

The research through the design I conduct is mainly structured on two elements:

  • Constructive design research, which invites experimentations with devices designed for research. Research-through-Design (Koskinen et al., 2012) is a major marker.
  • The development of the annotated portfolio research tool proposed by Bill Gaver (2012), which structures an analysis of a corpus of artefacts either designed as part of the research project or external to it.

The role of the prototype is central to this approach, but changes in nature compared to what is traditionally considered in design: it is not a first model, close to what will be produced in series, but what Frens (2006) calls a physical hypothesis, and Hengeveld (2011) an experiential hypothesis, a very eloquent barbarism which I think corresponds entirely to the role of the prototype.

Finally, this approach also requires a project so that design can act and contribute to research. In Sennett’s words and adapting them to design, Hummels describes this request to localize the research question, which can then be followed by a reflection in action allowing it to be questioned, and a reflection on action to inquire the research question a fortiori, beyond the project itself.

This is my approach to design research.

Japanese experience

Before becoming an assistant professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology, I spent about 9 years in Japan, mainly affiliated with the University of Tsukuba, at the Kansei Information Science Laboratory, directed by Prof. Yamanaka, who was also my thesis director during my doctoral studies.

The study of Kansei has been for me a guiding principle that allowed me to progress on two fundamental subjects in my research:

  • A deepening of my interest in the affective relationship to the lived world, which gradually led me to also become interested in notions related to embodiment.
  • A personal and intellectual curiosity for the Japanese culture, and for what it reveals about the beauty of the everyday.

Concretisation of the beautiful

In particular, I have been interested in the Way of Tea, which Okakura (1906) describes in his famous book The Book of Tea as the cult of the beautiful of the ordinary in the everyday. And I have been especially interested in the Japanese tea ceremony, which is a ritualized experience of the Way of Tea, established by Rikyu in the 16th century.

To illustrate what I saw there, I would like to take the example of a short moment during the ceremony, illustrated by the photo you see here. Once the light tea has been served, the main guest asks the host if he or she could view objects used for tea. The host then introduces him to the chashaku and the chaire, the chashaku being the small spatula to take tea out of the chaire, which is the tea container. The chaire diameter is about one third the length of chashaku. The host places the chashaku two mats apart from the edge of the tatami in front of the main guest, and aligns the centre of the chaire with the centre of the chashaku. Once the host has withdrawn into the water room, i.e., the kitchen, the guest approaches the two objects so that his knees are two mats from the chashaku. Sitting in seiza, he will then be able to comfortably manipulate and contemplate the two objects presented to him, in a culturally Japanese comfort.

What impressed me here is that Rikyu has made an aesthetic proposition towards harmony that corresponds to a system of values (not aimed at effectiveness or efficiency), with aesthetic, ethical and social concerns, and that enables the realization of beauty.

The tea ceremony as a design

This led me to consider that Rikyu (1522-1591) transformed a proposal of values, those of Buddhism and the Wabi etiquette of his time, into a situated system of artefacts, social actors, and signs enabling an engaged and social experience of these values.

This transformation is based on the development of the technology of his time in response to a social expectation of his time. This system is an aesthetic proposal.

The idea that the formalization of the Japanese tea ceremony responds to a “social expectation of its time” already invites us to rethink the ritual not as a fixed repetition of a sequence of actions, but as a practice of daily life re-interpretable in a time and place.

Moreover, the realization of an aesthetic proposal enables the perspective of this aesthetic proposal by Japanese thought, and opens on the notions of contexture and temporality of the daily experience, notions that we will question later.

Mujirushi ryohin

This aesthetic proposal is still found in contemporary design, as for example in mujirushi ryohin, better known simply as muji. If we analyse what has been written about the brand, as well as what the main actors who have participated in the development of the brand and design – notably Kenya Hara and Naoto Fukasawa – have explained about muji’s philosophy and vision, we find most often three key concepts that characterise muji’s design and seem to be in line with the values embodied by the Japanese tea ceremony:

  • The simple invites to consider what is obvious or essential, stripped of all superfluity.
  • The ordinary focuses on what appears classic or usual, and useful for everyday life. It also invites to consider habitability, a concept dear to Alain Findeli.
  • Finally, the void concerns a space of possibilities left open by the design, to be filled by the user (or interactant) with the artifact, in order to adapt the value proposal to one’s place and time within one’s daily life.

The aesthetic proposal proposed by Rikyu is reflected in a contemporary design, that of muji.

Turning point

From this observation on tea, and by observing a corpus of artefacts from the work of contemporary Japanese designers, this aesthetic proposal aiming at a form of harmony between values, bodies, gestures, etc. has caused a turning point in my view on design.

Looking at the Japanese tea ceremony through the lens of design, I saw the tea ceremony as prototypical of design based on Japanese culture, which has deeply shaken my perspective on design.

So I turned the lens over and looked at design through the lens of the tea ceremony, and saw a lack of a theoretical framework for design to explain the tea ceremony. And this absence gave way to a gap to be filled by a cultural decentration of design.

This decentration invites us to redefine the ritual not as an identical repetition of a sequence of actions, but as an aesthetic proposal that allows us to be reconsidered every time in our daily lives.

It also appears that the ritual is both social and singular, and always reinterpretable by those who propose it, the designers, and those who live it.

Design is therefore questioned in the light of the ritual, and the ritual is questioned through design.

Japanese philosophy and culture

To achieve this decentration, I studied Japanese philosophy and culture. Although I do not have time here to present the details of this study, I list here the main topics on which my attention has been focused:

  • Watsuji’s ethics on relationship, published in 1934;
  • Nishida’s philosophy (and a little more generally of the Kyoto School) on experience, whose main work was published in 1911;
  • The writings of Dōgen on time, dating from the 13th century;
  • And the work on the Buddhist idea of beauty proposed by Yanagi and published more recently in 1972.

Framework for design

From this study, it results that the aesthetic proposal of the Japanese perspective studied here is based on two notions on which design can act:

  • Thusness, or suchness, which proposes to look beyond human-machine interaction, considering a maximum of elements that constitute the lived world, as well as their relationships and the global harmony. Therefore, it suggests a method that takes the lived world as a starting point, and not the human-machine relationship as it is traditionally done, and aims to a harmonious integration of the designed artefact.
  • Irregularity offers an ethical vision for the design of everyday life. It does not aim for a form of perfection – very often considered in industrial design – but goes beyond it by presenting itself as a source of freedom and opening up fields of possibilities through interaction.

The two photos shown on the left of the screen are, at the top, an embroidered pattern designed by Akira Minagawa in 2005, and at the bottom a set of chasen handles (the whisk used to mix tea during the ceremony) 3D-printed during Shigeru Yamada’s master project that I supervised in 2016.

The irregularity shown in Minagawa’s design is made through a large number of embroidery stitches intended to be made at the same place, so that the machine can no longer make the stitch because of too high thread density. This causes the needle to twist to continue making the required stitch. This results in one or more embroidery stitches being made in an unplanned location, and therefore in an irregularity.

The chasen handles were based on a parametric design (the shape is described by a mathematical formula). The six models were produced at different printing speeds. From right to left, the first print was made at the standard machine speed, as indicated by the machine manufacturer, then 2, 3, 4 and 6 times faster. When we showed these chasen handles to a group of tea masters, considered experts in this experiment. The second was significantly more appreciated. This chasen handle has both a possibility to be used properly, and also a subtle irregularity that makes the object beautiful. We see in this experiment that irregularity is perceived as beautiful.

The contexture of everyday life

What thusness and irregularity enabled is to reopen the question of everyday life, and in particular the rituals of everyday life. We question here what people feel in their daily lives, especially in terms of aesthetics. The everyday ritual is precisely an interesting moment for design as it gives everyday practices a space for attention.

However, the idea of an aesthetic proposal that was discussed earlier brings us to an aesthetic view of the experience in the here-and-now, and therefore to what I call a contexture.

In this space (or moment) of attention that is the ritual, there is a texture, i.e., an inquiry on form by the organization of space, by the choice of objects, of gestures and practices… This texture is concretized by the ritual. Therefore, our approach questions the contexture delivered by the aesthetic proposal of the ritual and aims at a balance that allows a form of harmony.

Moreover, the ritual includes aspects that are social and singular. To understand it, it is therefore necessary to question it both on its social and singular aspects. To capture the singular, for about two years I have been asking my students, who have sufficient skills to make small films of this nature, to do one on one of their own daily rituals. These films are then viewed, discussed and analysed. This is one method, among others, to capture elements of the complex, intimate and implicit experience of everyday life, which are singular and aim at harmony within this experience.

The temporality of everyday life

I also conducted another experiment to explore a daily ritual, which was based on my personal morning hot chocolate. This experiment has shown that the question of the contexture, enabling to approach the aesthetic proposal, also questions our temporal values, most often in opposition to efficiency that often imposes itself on any question of temporality, especially in industrial design and interaction design.
This raises the question of the time values that are given to these everyday experiences.

How can the temporality of the ritual be characterized, for example differently from the flow theory, proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, also aiming at efficiency? We are aiming here at an aesthetic proposal that questions temporality, that invites us to take time: in this proposal, what values stopping to listen to music, contemplating a landscape, etc. This is another major issue addressed by this research program.

Enchanting everyday life through design

My research is therefore a design research, based on the contexture, a questioning of the temporal value, and a structured theoretical framework on thusness and irregularity.

The aim is to use the questions of contexture and temporality to invite the composition of a daily experience. And I like to borrow Bart Hengeveld’s words, who compares such a composition to that of music.

This is done in resistance to the Western culture of industrial design, which focuses almost exclusively on efficiency and effectiveness, and which seems to resist questioning emotion and irregularity. The Design&Emotion Society, established about a dozen years ago and mainly led by the Department of Industrial Design at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, which first worked well, and is currently in standby to discuss and to understand why it didn’t work so well in the end. I hope that this research brings an original perspective to this discussion.

Irregularity is at the heart of the approach. The irregularity enables an absence of fence, avoids a design that would aim at a controlled behaviour by an optimization of the means for a predetermined goal. It contributes to a better understanding of design, and to suggest an epistemology of design on the fact that a totally predictable and regulating system – whether social, cultural or technical – prevents invention or transformation.

Therefore, irregularity prevents us from falling into the trap of industrial production aiming at perfection and infinite reproduction, and enhances the idea of surprise, accident, openness to possibilities, both in the design and manufacturing processes and in the results.

And this research program aims to enchant everyday life through design.

One last thought

This brings me to a final reflection on this research program.

The opening made by my inquiry on the Japanese tea ceremony through design proposes something different to design. It questions the subject and the place of design research afresh, as it raises the question of everyday rituals.

Design research must be reappropriated by a design that is close to the thinking of Art&Craft and the decorative arts, i.e., by a thought that focuses on the arts of living, and that reflects aesthetic values and proposals for balance in the sensitive experience. This ambition to propose balances has rather been forgotten in current design research – and I am referring here to the research communities to which I belong, especially SIGCHI and DRS – which comes rather from industrial design and aims at a form of perfection, i. e., to an end of any reinterpretation.

The objective of design must be to propose aesthetic arrangements aimed at proposals for harmony between artefacts, spaces, gestures, values, etc., and not exclusively to promote effectiveness and efficiency, yet a dominant effort in contemporary design research and particularly in technological education places.

Therefore, I see this research as a form of resistance to functionalism, so well established in the culture of design research, inspired by industrial design.

What is important for such a design is the enchantment of everyday life, that is, an attention to a harmonious aesthetic arrangement made visible by the contexture: questioning again norms that are no longer visible by design, seeking an overall aesthetic balance in everyday life that allows the experience of beauty.

Thank you very much.


Contemplating the impossible

Contemplating the impossible

Lévy, P. (2018). Contemplating the Impossible, presented at Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, The Netherlands. October 19th, 2018.

Introduction

First, I would like to thank Stephan Wensveen for the organisation and for making this day a such a special one, from start to end (although who knows how it will end…).
I am very glad to be here. It is an honour to participate to this symposium, and to have the role of opening the series of presentations. It is also a challenge I must say. Kees has been enriching the life of many of us, and I believe many of us would have something valuable to tell based on sharing experiences with Kees. I am very conscious of this privilege.

Times ago, discussing this symposium with Stephan, the idea was to have one eye looking back at what Kees brought to us and hoped for the design community, and to have the other eye on the future trying to tell our current students, to remind our alumni and ourselves some aspects Kees carried through his work, that we may bring further.
I have the honour and the challenge to operate this eye gymnastic and to share with you today what I see.

Contemplating the impossible

Today, in this speech, I will try not to bore you with details of the inaugural lecture of the late Prof Kees Overbeeke, “The Aesthetics of the Impossible”, that he gave in 2007, 11 years ago in exactly a week. Today offers an occasion for me to bore you with a contemplation of some of the key ideas raised during this lecture, and to contemplate them from where and when I stand today. And much have happened in between.

Today is also for me the occasion of getting bold again in the tradition of DQI. For the ones who hoped this was the past, bear with me and I’ll promise I will try to be soft. For the ones who miss it at times, hope you can enjoy.

For the ones who did not meet Kees, I would like to briefly introduce him. Late professor in our department of Industrial Design, Kees had a significant impact on the design and CHI communities all over the world, especially on the topics related to embodiment in design for interaction. But that would not tell much about the guy, by far. If he is remembered and celebrated in such a way as today, is because his ideas, his generosity, his friendliness and appreciation to all, impacted many individual lives, many of us both intellectually and humanly. He is, for many, one of these very few people that significantly meant something to us. He is a moment in the development of thoughts and attitudes.

His inaugural lecture was entitled “the aesthetics of the impossible”. The notion “impossible” demands here a little clarification, which is to me twofold:

  • Aesthetics, which is the core of design for interaction is ungraspable. It is only when and where it happens, in the here and the now. And then it is gone, suddenly as it happens. It is unique and impossible to grasp. Standardisation is impossible and actually not wished, as it would lead towards an extreme level of boredom and dissatisfaction. Systematic research is difficult but should be challenged.
  • Impossibility is also in the complexity we encounter in design: that is, in the variety of disciplines our students are facing (challenging skills, knowledge and practices), and in the inherent complexity of interaction and of experience. To address this impossibility, design approaches require a greater balance between making and thinking (supported by reflection on action, which I will address again later).

Therefore today, to contemplate the impossible, I will especially focus on three aspects: believes, teaching and research, making and thinking. And I will do so by freely mixing what Kees said (at least the way I understand it) and by my reflection on it. For the flow of my discourse, I will often borrow from Kees’s inaugural lecture without systematically mention it.

Contemplating believes

Kees explains:
Every scientist, as well as every designer, has a body of knowledge, as well as a galaxy of believes (that is my wording).

Knowledge is established through research activities and transmitted through teaching. It is about how things are. Believes contribute to envisioning how things ought to be. They result from philosophy, intuition, awareness, experience, from our being-in-the-world, in a giving culture, in a giving timeframe.

Believes are guides for where we go, where we look, we what we do, and what strikes us. They condition our engagements, our motives, our stance and our actions in the world. Less than a month ago, Bill Buxton, lecturing here at TU/e, was reminding us the importance, and actually the necessity of having a compass and a horizon in design practice and design research. It is essential for good design (given that this design intends to contribute to the making of a better world).

In the current context where the most striking thing we know is that we do not know where the world is going, because of its complexity, because of challenges that we are aware of but do not fully comprehend, because of tensions we feel but that are not clear to our sight. This is made even more complex by our relation and use of technology: as we praise it and support its development and its use in society, yet questioning it at the same time.

Knowledge and believes then are necessary in design practice, design education, and design research.

A few believes that Kees mentioned during his inaugural lecture, are worth remembering:

  • “Design is about people. It is about our life and dreams, about our loneliness and joy, our sense of beauty and justice, about the social and the good. It is about being in the world”.
  • Meaning emerges in interaction and cannot be detached from action. This demands a primacy of embodiment and a primacy of action.

Considering these two first points, a few consequences can be suggested here. The first two ones are also stated by Kees:

  • A design theory must be a theory of action (and I would add of transformation, which I will discuss later). This theory should focus on embodiment in the first place, and on meaning in the second place. Reflection in/on and for action is a source of knowledge and a creator of new and valuable perspectives on and for design, on and for the world.
  • Design research and practice are powerful source of knowledge. As I will discuss it later, research and education should be highly interwoven.

To these two considerations, I may add the following:

  • Design research is not solely an applicative research but contains also, and actually is for a large part, a theoretical research, with the condition that we give space to it. Design theory, constitutive of design research, is a theory of action. If design would to be a science (in the modern sense of the term, which I have throughout the years got progressively to agree with), it would be a transformative science, as any other science with transformative outcomes, such as engineering or chemistry (when it tries to create a new molecule for example). Design is not a descriptive science, such as ethnography, physics trying to describe the phenomenon of gravitation, or chemistry trying to describe a natural chemical reaction.
    Design (being practice, education, or research) is about transformations, and is specific as it is about action, about people, and about ethics.
  • Therefore, I would challenge any reduction of the world or the experience of it, to data. In this crucial moment, where data related technologies become so predominant, with incredible and promising outcomes, design practitioners and design researchers should obviously embrace such technologies, as well as not forgetting that the experience of the world is embodied, is affective, and symbolic. We are beings with a history, culture, ethics, visions and dreams.

Contemplating teaching and research

This is especially important when considering the necessity of aligning research and teaching. Kees reminded us clearly and simply the necessity to align both activities for the academic world.

He told us: “expressivity, beauty and meaning are at the core of design”. In 1999, I (being Kees while in Delft) pointed out the mismatch between teaching and research. Research was about structural aspects of perception, and teaching was about beauty of interaction. I could not change the teaching, so I changed the research. “Emotion became important, which is not obvious as a research topic in the technical background that was then in Delft and now here.”

The PhD of Stephan Wensveen is one of the first and a clear example of research work on emotionally intelligent products. Already then he noticed the challenge and the necessity of interacting in a continuous and simultaneous way with products (topic that was still challenged in the PhD of Jelle Stienstra just 2 years ago). Many related topics were then developed further in various ways throughout most PhDs executed in the DQI research group. And I am no surprised that Stephan today pushes the research further and focuses on questions related to the “aesthetics of the intelligence”.

Recently, our students are facing a progressive increase of topics the design community is engaging in (design based on big data, A.I. and other learning algorithms, but also service design, social design…). All these increase challenges and complexity in their education and their future work. They also face a progressive increase of technological solutions at hand to make their designs.
Now that teaching is challenged by many other topics (related to technology and society), I think It is important for us, as a leading academia in design, to keep focusing where our skills are: as we interact with data through interfaces, being either sensors or actuators… “how do these become meaningful and beautiful to us?” is our core question. Mastering data management (among others) is certainly important, however, providing meaningful, rich and beautiful interactions is the heart of design.

This demands to care for human and their actual experiences as beings-in-the-world, and to keep design teaching and research focusing on this. Only then, when students will embody that by being curious, sympathetic and independent, only then they will embody and act the richness design may provide. Taking again the lines from Kees: “But the only way to develop curiosity, sympathy, principle, and independence of mind is to practice being curious, sympathetic, principled and independent. For those of us who are teachers, it isn’t what we teach that instills virtue, it is how we teach. We are the books our students read most closely”
“Let us practice what we preach”. Let us care, through our teaching, what our students learn and become.

Contemplating making and thinking

The electronic and digital interfaces are loaded with buttons that demands little of our motor-perceptive skills, and too much of our cognitive skills.
This situation leads to standardized and efficient interactions, as well as to boring and poor ones if we consider the human being in its entirety.

Making simple buttons by default is, to my point of view, a triple failure:
First, as we already mentioned it, it fails the possibility to provide beauty in interaction, beauty and care in the experience. It fails the heart of design.
Second, it is defeating the idea that design is about challenges and only addressing these challenges will help, in the long term, to find novel, effective, rich and beautiful ways of interacting.
Third, the button degrades our contact with the world. When there is no experiential relation between the activity of pressing a button and the functional and experiential consequences of doing so, there is also less space for grasping the world, that is for sensemaking. Proposing poor interaction solutions (by opposition of making rich interaction solutions), makes us designer and us users less to experience our being-in-the-world, and therefore inepter (or more moronic is you prefer).

The button here is obviously only the archetype of a quick and easy decision making, yet leading to boredom, poverty in life experiences, and flattening both designers’ and users’ minds.
Our design skills exploring possibilities of rich interactions are therefore not only a way to make user’s experiences and life better, but also a way to advance in design research: exploring through making (using design skills well), and reflecting in and on action is what design can do best, and contribute to the most in the world of academia in the first place, and in the world in the second place.

Finally, as Kees reminded us, we need to keep in mind that we are too many that know, and not enough that make. Reflection on action should be the drive to push design practice and design research further. “in our effort to understand reality, we have been too much abstracted from it”.

Contemplating transformation

As mentioned before, design is about transformation, transformation of practices in societies and in our everyday life. Understanding reality, which means understanding our everyday life, is to transform it:

Étudier la vie quotidienne serait une entreprise parfaitement ridicule, et d’abord condamnée à ne rien saisir de son objet, si l’on ne se proposait pas explicitement d’étudier la vie quotidienne afin de la transformer. Guy Debord

Studying the everyday life would be an absurd undertaking, and anyway fated to catch nothing of its object, if studying the everyday life would explicitly be with the intention to transform it. Guy Debord

And I would like to conclude with this notion of everyday transformation, being actually my research topic which I believe I have built partly on the considerations I have discussed today.

Although this word, “everyday” is so much used in the world of design, addressing it is not as obvious as it seems, and is often actually avoided or subverted. As things become part of our everyday, a process called quotidianisation, they escape from our attention, giving us peace of mind. They stop questioning us, and we stop questioning them. This way, they progressively disappear from our awareness. Perec even speaks about amnesia, rather than lack of attention. What can be extraordinary when new, becomes infra-ordinary through the process of quotidianisation.
Questioning the everyday requires exploring the infraordinary, which demands exploring tiny and often personal details that we are obviously not aware of in the first place. Exploring the everyday to transform it demands to get aware and to understand its most tiny details, which as Coyne & Mathers explain “often appear irrational from a third-person perspective, but most often rational from a first-person perspective”. Therefore, designing for the everyday demands a continuous and structuring dialog between an exploration at the first-person perspective, to create a rational, observing and transforming ones’ own everyday life to comprehend these rationales, and a third-person perspective that enables us to design for others.

I have found the sensibility, the attention to tiny details and the beauty in the everyday in the Japanese culture and philosophy, from which I have elaborated a theoretical framework for designing for the everyday. This framework relies indeed on Japanese philosophers and thinkers, such as Nishida Kitaro or Yanagi Soetsu who through their work have pointed out where beauty relies in the everyday, as well as designers, such as Naoto Fukusawa and Kenya Hara who through their work have not only designed but also reflected on their making to show the values of paying attention to the everyday towards human and social elevation, and have made it existing in our societies all over the world, through companies such as Muji.

Designing for the everyday is to me a clear example of what design claims to do, yet actually (and for now!) fails to do properly. The hope of making design research education and practice an actual unique and yet not isolated contributor to a betterment of our world, goes through a repositioning on what design can do best: focusing and creating meaning in interaction for people’s experiences, using at full reflection in and on action to make sense of the world as it is lived, making sure to enrich the beauty of our everyday life. All that stands in the way of abstraction, standardization.

Contemplating the impossible

To finish on Kees’s considerations: “It is our role, scholars and industrialists, to define a new project for design. We have to avoid remaining in a problem-solver perspective, and to wake-up and let grow the challengers that is in each of the designers we are educating.”

We must dream, to give youngsters hope.

Thanks to Kees for all this teaching, that even in challenging times remain constitutive of our design compass.
La reconnaissance est la mémoire du cœur.

Thank you


ココアの茶

布団抜け
匙にて点てる
ココアの茶

Barely out of bed,
performing at the spoon
the brown of the hot chocolate

À peine hors du lit,
La performance à la cuillère
du marron du chocolat chaud

Lévy (レヴィ)