Reality is largely a matter of habit

As it hasn’t received much love on the blog yet, I want to talk a little about Björn Franke’s “Design Fiction is not Necessarily about the Future.” Franke brings up an issue (via Anthony Dunne) in which I have some curiosity; he discusses the relationship between the marketplace and “the real.” Here’s part of my investment in this question: I am trying to decide right now if I should be going into only one more year of design school and then trying to enter the workforce or if I should stay in academia a bit longer (or possibly, indefinitel) by entering the design PhD track. A friend of mine in design academia has commented that he feels the longer he stays in academia the less seriously the commercial world takes him. Even though he does practical, hands-on, well-respected design research, he has something of an anxiety about the opinion of the “real world,” that is, the commercial world, on his work. In other words, he is equating the the commercial world with the “real world.” It is something that I fall into all the time, and a distinction that Franke brings up too: “The fictional design object is thereby understood as a design object, which is not commercial or mass-produced and therefore non-real” (82). Conceptual design is “fictional” and commercial design is “real.” This maps nicely to my friend’s problem: he wants his work to be adopted by corporations (who would undoubtedly benefit from doing so), but because some of it has not yet been implemented into mass production, the work remains as yet, non-real. I, like Franke, wonder about the usefulness of this defining what is “real” about design. The marketplace and commercial design does have the power to make (manufacture) and make available for a much wider audience whatever is made or planned in smaller-scale by the designer, but what is the boundary between the real and the unreal here?
Franke goes on to consider many other criteria for what is “real” in his essay, many of which temper this line between real and unreal, and one of which simply uses the tangibility of the designed (even if not mass produced) as what is real. That is, design objects belong to the “actual world” rather than to an alternative world. In this model, the only thing that distinguishes the possible object from the real object is the “fictional intention” of the creator. The object needs to be presented in an alternative world which could be the real world. Here, it sounds like the designer needs to go out of his or her way to designate the not realness of the object.
I would especially be interested in hearing from some of you who are about to enter the commercial design world and have probably had some great internships at more or less commercial design firms. Is this the real world? Is what is “real” about the work that you do in school only a measure of how immediately useful it will be for day-to-day practice in the commercial world? Or maybe, here’s a more interesting question: if design starts with developing something not yet real, at what point does the design become real?

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