It is every designer’s dream to design a chair. I have yet to meet an industrial designer that doesn’t want to design a chair or a car. It is a designer’s dream for those who study transportation design to design a car and I get it. Chairs and tables?
The reality is: how often designers get a chance to design their own chairs? And what every transportation designer ended up doing is styling a car that was designed by a computer. There is a disproportionately large amount of chairs being designed compared to any other objects and products.
Any object whether it is chair, a table, a smartphone, or a coffee maker does not exist in a vacuum and is part of an informal system that links to a complex set of interactions both human and machines. And even a complex layer of meanings for a relatively simple object – a chair or a functional tool – a smartphone. For some, the term “phenomenology” is only restricted to the characterization of sensing qualities such as seeing, touching, hearing, etc.: what it is like to have sensations of different kinds that form a human experience. But our experience is normally much richer in content than mere sensations.
Sensational experience is great but short-lived. To create meanings is the ultimate human experience. To design, in phenomenological terms, is to address the meaning that things or objects have in our own experience, in our own “life-world” and how we “experience” them. Just ask any designer if they see their discipline this way? Mostly not and 90% of designers’ effort are on aesthetics and not phenomenology. Is there a discipline called “design phenomenology”?
Phenomenology is the examination of the structure of various types of experience ranging from a broader and deeper perspectives and including from deep diving on perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, and volition to bodily awareness, embodied action, and social activities, linguistic activity etc. We need to apply that before we strategize a new business concept, a new service design model or an innovative new product.
It is what we need to understand the context of anything. The structure of these forms of experience typically involves what Edmund Albrecht Husserl (German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology) called “intentionality”, that is, the directedness of experience toward things in the world, the property of consciousness that it is a consciousness of or about something and this is what makes the job fun. It is not for someone without imagination. It is all about seeing “intentions” as well as “jobs-to-perform” and “concepts of the world”. The idea is studying the units of consciousness, is like “giving voice to” and these units of consciousness are called intentional acts or intentional experiences. It is basically the most human-centric approach to understanding human experiences.
When designers try to design experiences, perhaps they should need to first consider phenomenology. It is not really a rocket science; for centuries poets, writers, painters, film producers have been born phenomenologists. I think most of us are born phenomenologists particularly in the days of Facebook and other social media where we share everything, we understand very well by means of words, videos and images, our insights with our friends — we are all practicing phenomenology without knowing it.