Design can be seen as an expression of meaning – it depends on the relation between a sign and a concept fixed by a social or cultural code.
(Hall, 1997: 27)
According to Stuart Hall, Michel Foucault’s interpretation of discourse is as a system of representation (Hall, 1997: 44). It does not only consist of individual concepts, but of various ways of organizing, assembling, arranging, and categorizing concepts, while also forming relations between them (Hall, 1997: 17). Translatability is mainly the result of a set of social conventions – socially and culturally fixed specifically and uniquely to each society and each historical moment (Hall, 1997: 32). Children learn the codes of their language and culture, preparing them with cultural knowledge and enabling them to appropriately function as a member (Hall, 1997: 22). Meaning is constructed and produced – it does not exist within things, but within discourse (Hall, 1997: 24). These entire discourses operate across whole varieties of texts, areas of knowledge about a subject that have achieved widespread authority. Representation is seen as a source for the production of social knowledge – an open system with a more prominent connection to social practices and questions of power (Hall, 1997: 42). All practices hold a discursive aspect because all social practices require meaning, and meanings shape and influence actions and decisions (Hall, 1997: 44).
Discourse defines and produces the objects of our knowledge – it conducts the way objects can be talked about and influences how ideas are put into action and used to manage the conduct of others (Hall, 1997: 44). According to Hall, it is said by Foucault that discursive events belong to the same discursive formation when they refer to the same object, share an identical style and support of common institutional pattern (Hall, 1997, 44). Hall describes Foucault’s argument that ‘nothing has any meaning outside of discourse.’ The concept of discourse is not about whether things exist but from where meaning is originated (Hall, 1997: 45). Hall also explains how Foucault became focused on the relationship between knowledge and power, and how power operates within what he calls ‘an institutional apparatus’. This approach saw that knowledge is always involved in relations of power because it is constantly being applied to the regulation of social conduct (Hall, 1997: 47).
Foucault, Hall explains, was strongly opposed to class reductionism in the Marxist theory of ideology. Foucault argued that not only is knowledge always a form of power, but questions of when and in what circumstances should knowledge be applied or not implicates power (Hall, 1997: 48). He believed that this question of power/knowledge application and effectiveness was more important than the question of its ‘truth’ (Hall, 1997: 49). Theorist Antonio Gramsci’s belief – who was influenced by Marx but rejected class reductionism – was that certain social groups struggle varyingly and ideologically to win the consent of other groups. Gramsci named this form of power as hegemony (Hall, 1997: 48). Through established technologies and strategies of application, knowledge is delegated in certain situations, historical contexts, and institutional regimes. For example, in order to study punishment, one must study the combination of discourse and power – ‘power/knowledge’ – and how it has created a conception of crime and the criminal. This led Foucault to speak, not of the ‘Truth’ of knowledge but of a discursive formation maintaining a regime of truth (Hall, 1997: 49). The familiar object I will be using discourse to analyze, look critically, and build wider context and inquiry upon is one of my bookmarks. What I believe it says about myself is not only that I enjoy reading, but also personally, that I have a sentimental attitude as I’ve had this object since childhood. This bookmark can be analyzed discursively in that its primary use is to mark one’s place within a book or similar reading. However, a bookmark is an object that can be used to express certain concepts or ideas such as through advertising or as personal expression. Discourse has allowed bookmarks to dissociate from the traditional image of a strip of material with a distinct piece on the top for reference – a bookmark can take on the form of any material object or in the form of an online ‘bookmark’ as long as it marks a desired area. A bookmark increases the convenience and efficiency of the world – whether it is a bookmark on your computer or one in a report – little by little, bookmarks contribute to our present days faster pace of living as they allow for quicker reference towards information, resources and therefore knowledge.
The definition of ‘design’ is one that is dependent on a various set of aspects – whether design is considered to be an idea, knowledge, product, process, or even a ‘way-of-being’. Its essential characteristics may also range according to its cultural context – a combination of historical and geographical (Findeli, 1995: 75). Whether a design program is in lack or in possession of an underlying model of design, a common characteristic between the two is that both insist upon the multidisciplinary nature of design – they take into consideration the concept that design is composed of technology, art, and science (Findeli, 1995: 75). When Laszlo Moholy-Nagy began rebuilding the Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937, he believed it was necessary to update the content of the program and method of design used in workshops. Major changes not only consisted of the introduction of scientific courses but of a method of analyzing design problems adapted to the scientific and philosophical paradigms of the twentieth century (Findeli, 1995: 86).
Therefore, design is continuously subjected to discourse – to its encompassing sociocultural environment. How design was traditionally perceived was changed due to an interest and discovery of how the social conventions of the world affected it and vice versa, how design was able to affect the social knowledge, practices and culture of it’s environment. Design can be seen as an expression of meaning – it depends on the relation between a sign and a concept fixed by a social or cultural code (Hall, 1997: 27). In a semiotic approach, design functions as a signifier – to deliver information. However a successful design constructs stories around objects that make them seem more desirable and provides the audience with images of style, comfort, and efficiency (Hall, 1997: 37), (Hustwit, 2009). Through discourse, design produces knowledge and meaning within the socially constructed codes of its field and social environment. While the expression of art was existent throughout all historical periods and cultures, it was only within a discursive formation that ‘design’ could appear as a meaningful or intelligible construct or practice (Hall, 1997: 46).
Design is the process of exploring problems (Hustwit, 2009). To think in terms of design is to put your mind onto two different aspects – one trying to be responsive to the environment, the urban fabric, and to how things sit and places while also seeing those things as ‘free-floating entities’ that could occur anywhere (Rock, 2010: 171). Design has moved from a formal aesthetic approach to something that is a much more experiential and relational approach. What matters is the tangible effect of the thing on the audience rather than it’s appearance in terms of its graphic form. The phenomena of ones interactions are dealt with more than the thing itself (Rock, 2010: 175). Design offers users a combination of value and experiences that seem to construct connections to the core of who individuals really are (Hustwit, 2009).
Historically, the perception of a designer was simply aesthetic – a designer was viewed as a minor detail within an overall project who was called upon near completion, to enhance the products appearance or in other words, to make it look ‘pretty’ (Hustwit, 2009). IDEO – a firm based on innovation and design and founded by David Kelley, changed the traditional conception of designers. They brought introduced teams who brainstormed solutions together and thus began to be involved with a variety of individuals who knew what it was to think ‘semiotically’ (Hustwit, 2009). The introduction of a team/design form of thinking created the present-day conception and appreciation of designers who now focus on the importance of context and user interaction rather than form, function, and appearance (Hustwit, 2009). There have always been relations of design, but the ‘designer’ as a certain kind of social subject, was produced, and could only make its appearance within the social, artistic, and scientific discourses, practices and ‘institutional apparatuses’, with the particular theories of design in the early nineteenth century associating with the establishment of the Bauhaus (Hall, 1997: 46) (Findeli, 1995: 75). For example, Modernism during the 1920s and 1930s was never an individual, separate movement – its image was greatly constructed among the post-war years by the careful editing out of singular Expressionist contributions to 20th century design made within those years (McDermott, 2007: 160).
Designers are focused on the idea of creating brand and product experiences, among other things that are not aesthetically ‘ideological’. In this sense, it’s not mainly about rethinking modernism, but instead it’s the question of how to attain some form of authentic emotional experience from the design object itself (Rock, 2010: 175). What the designer attempts to shape is the moment and exchange between a user and a product through the tool of graphic design. This has to do with the language and overall ‘ambiance’ of the experience rather than any specific aesthetic composition (Rock, 2010: 176). Designers subjectify the users – often the user is the victim of the decisions made by the designer. They receive a product, which implicitly commands them to do certain things or make certain choices. Urbanism for example, is the extreme version in which the urban planner lays out specific things that determine the activities that are going to occur (Rock, 2010: 176). Designers are more concerned with representation as a source of social knowledge – connected with social practices and questions of authority or power (Hall, 1997: 42).