Imagination beyond orthodoxy, or a methodology for irrational imaginative design.

April 28, 2017

Every culture has its way of thinking including its codes and myths. For designers, this is of particular importance. Surrounded by formal, philosophical, or economic conventions their job is to create products and services full of meaning. By doing so, they change the interior to the exterior. That is, they play with the cultural code. They analyse, synthesise, and interpret; thus they make concrete proposals by telling stories with symbols and myths. And so it is that we, the consumers, unconsciously scan our environment and its involved conglomerate of subtexts to decide what we wish for and what we need.

In doing so, our emotions are the key to decode those structures. It is our early childhood in which most of these imprinted experiences are formed. In that time of our life, our brain is somehow more, let’s say liquid – meanings are not yet defined. This allows our state of mind to change fluently. The older we get, the stronger logic and analytical thinking determine us.

Childhood, thereby, is like living the dream that is real. It is a place that is imaginative, free of coded ideas and abbreviations. The absurdity is possible and right. As we age, we are devoured by the crises and problems of the present. We learn to unlearn to function in an efficient way. Sadly, this means it becomes more difficult to leave the beaten track. As a child, however, we cease to imagine the world apart from accepted truths and codes.

The book Codex Seraphinianus (1981) by Luigi Serafini shows that even as an adult it is possible to leave the reasonable place. His illustrations show a world beautifully shrouded in mystery. The sketches are obscure, physically impossible and perverse. The lyrics speak in madness in a code that can´t be decrypted. There is no intellectual way to understand Serafini’s work. No one can coax its hidden secrets out – that makes its charm. It is an excellent example of thoughts and logic beyond reason that create a whole new world beyond rules and accepted truths. It is a form of irrationality that functions as a possibility.

In 1969 Herbert Simon famously defined that:

“design is all conscious human activity changing existent situations into preferred ones.”

Simons definition is probably the most quoted explanation of design saying that we all, on some level, are designers. And of course, everyone sometimes tries to lead a given state into a better one. Design, however, is more than simply an idea of problem-solving. It is exploration and imagination as the illustrator Serafini shows. It is irrational. It’s wired. It’s off. Its practice is an imaginative activity – pretty bonkers often – and most of the time fluctuating somewhere between creativity and analysis.

Leading cultural codes, however, let us think of design as a straight way to heaven; as if there has ever been a design that functions linearly. Most design processes are versatile and volatile. Perhaps, at some point in future, there will be a methodology for an irrational imaginative design. Something like un-designing the rational. Seems to be only a question of imagination, right? But now it’s time to stop – before it becomes anarchistic.

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herbert simon