Transdisciplinary Design

Prototyping time

Posted on December 6, 2011 | posted by:

There is a level of understanding that only seems to fall into place by making and experiencing. In Tim Brown’s ”Design for change” the importance of prototyping and trying out ideas is presented as a way to find appropriate design solutions. Tangible and physical outcomes are a part of the process, not only the solution. For practical design problems this connection might seem evident, but I believe it to be equally true and relevant for theoretical and philosophical issues. Sketches and models of different ideas can be made in order to discuss an abstract subject with others, and by doing so the abstract subject is also better understood by oneself.

In our current project, Diala Lteif, Janet Lobberecht and me are working on a project about time. We are attempting to discuss time from different perspectives that goes beyond our conventional and accustomed ways to measure time. Initially it was hard to come to terms with what to do with such and abstract and large topic. There is a system of accounting for time, in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Why go to the trouble of deviating from that? Maybe that exact question is the reason to do such a project. When accustomed to a certain system or language, abstract ideas can go from refined nuances to simplifications. When we settle for an explanation and stop asking questions, we distance ourselves from the topic. Granted that conventions can be comfortable, they make the scales of grey appear black and white. Yet if we move closer we see that there are still shades of grey there.

Consider the understanding of an event or a certain time period. An event looks different in retrospect compared to when it actually took place. This is an easy statement to make, but when using a visual component the train of thought seems to be pushed a little further: Try drawing a small point on a paper using a pen. You cannot see the point until you have moved your pen away from it on the paper. This is not so much about a lack of presence as it is about the actual impossibility to see the point as it is being drawn. When something is happening we are partly blind, almost as if we are in a dark room. Time is necessary in order to see things for what they really are, and the distance that the passing of time provides, is like turning on a light. However, while time might provide some clarity of perception, the actual sense and feeling of a certain event can only be experienced as it actually happens. Thus there is an inevitable separation of the heart and mind in the experience and understanding of an event. When we can see, we cannot feel, and when we can feel we cannot see.  When longing and striving towards new places we create lines, and when staying somewhere we create a point. And as mentioned before, is not until moving forward, drawing lines, that we can see the points. We seem inevitable split between the present, the past and the future. When we are mainly focused on gazing into the future, we often remind ourselves to be more ”in the now”. In other words, we are asking each other to be more present in events. However, if we cannot see all the dimensions of an event until the ”now” has passed, would it not be more appropriate to ask ourselves not to be in the now, but to encourage an oscillation between the past the present and the future?

Throughout our project we have created several models to discuss different aspects of time. One of these models materializes the connection between the past, the present and the future. It is a conceptual model of a book that reads your life. As you live your life, the shapes are detached and a pattern is created, hiding and revealing different parts of the previous pages. Thus, the view of the past is constantly changing as the days passes. Each page in the book is marked with tomorrow on one side, and yesterday on the other. There is no “now” to hold on to besides from the action of the detaching shapes and the turning of the pages.

There is value in understanding through materializing theoretical concepts. The visual and material can complement and add dimensions to other methods of explanation. Rather than arguing that our models are ”correct” ways to display time, they enable new reflections when they make an abstract subject more tangible.

Materializing the oscillation between past, present and future