I really want to try teaching this to people. It's so difficult to judge whether I'm going way too fast, or way too slow without some idea of what people can process (and what they already know).
Anyway, on a lark, here's the introduction to the section on Depth, this is now the third rewrite (not counting the first edition of the thesis), and it still feels way too brief. Oh well:
We have so far discussed primarily fairly universal patterns. Objects in a field, objects persisting across time, the kind of patterns that a human tends to learn long before they learn words to describe them. With repetition we become so accustomed to patterns that we no longer need to concentrate to identify them. Their recognition and associations become automatic and they cease to seem complex, regardless of how complex they seemed to us when we were learning them.
The key idea to take away is that patterns move from seeming foreign and complex to being familiar and simple through familiarity and practice in recognition. The effect that perceived complexity or unfamiliarity in an environment has upon us is important to the design process. All design intends to introduce into an environment a new pattern, and thus every design must deal with the user's perception of its differences from what the user has perceived before.
This is not to say that all design intends to create that which is radically different from all that which has preceded it, though much of North American design in the 20th century followed exactly that ideal. A craftsperson honing a centuries old tradition of furniture making may modify their mother's technique to such a tiny degree that the average person could not detect the change, but the craftsperson is honing the technique, and that tiny refinement is just as much a form of depth that can be perceived by a user as is a radical rethinking of what it means to be a chair. Consider the refined complexity of Samurai swords; though you might be hard pressed to detect the difference between two masters' work, you can readily detect that both masters' works are highly refined and complex.
As we have mentioned before, society uses designers and artists to explore the greater questions of life, the unanswerable or that which should not be answered. The presentation of new patterns of experience is part of the purpose of design from a societal standpoint. These new patterns are thought to provide a way to explore the unresolvable patterns which we all collect as we live. Thus, the perception of new patterns in a designed work, in its highest expression, is a promise to reflect some universal truth.
Depth can be understood as a promise of a higher-level pattern which may be resolved. That is, as our minds are built of patterns on top of patterns, perceived depth is a âpromiseâ that a higher-level pattern, a greater truth or understanding. Whether or not the promise holds out, the effect of the promise is part of our practice of design.
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