Design writing
July 2009
Posted by: Drew Joyce

Image, passage, place

An essay by Teri Hoskin.

Introduction: Over the past decade there has been a significant shift within the discipline of environmental graphics. From the mantra-driven corporate approaches of 1990s, the field then deflected to the realm of place making before moving to its present nebulous state – suspended within the intersecting spheres of architecture and visual communication.

Despite the humanist move, there remains a temptation within commercial projects to use the image as façade, rather than as a reflection of more meaningful strategies pertaining to identity.

We began to consider what next.

Our contemplation led us to engage Dr Teri Hoskin, an artist and writer with a PhD in architecture and design to undertake a theoretical inquiry.

The premise for her text being – what is the place of the image in commercial interior spaces?

The research framework was established with Teri through a series of conversations around design. It was also guided by the philosophy that underpins our practice: the development of solid conceptual frameworks for all projects and the pursuit of rigorous design thinking.

We agreed that the text would not aspire to draw any neat conclusions or recommendations, but would aim only to explore; to reveal. The objective for our practice in this and other ongoing inquiries being to steer us away from convenient solutions and toward authentic responses.

Drew Raia Joyce, July 2009


Thinking among images that work

One slips amongst things, and the conversation continues….

This small text presents thoughts toward further questions and possibilities, that is, it isn’t writing/thinking theory that illustrates, awaiting its reception and application by instrumental action. Rather it is the work of writing that makes the work of thinking: a double movement — from the outside to the inside of the working of images.

Graphic design as a discipline and as a field of practice is currently ripe for a more political engagement with the world. Engagement is a kind of pledge, and I mean it here as a promise on the side of life, an agreement to be open and responsive (responsible) toward the commune of community — toward rather than for (I am resisting the notion of ‘public good’ in all it’s vague and simultaneous sacredness). Design works in a kind of conundrum; it is tasked with control; of space, time, experience, belief and identity. The designer works for a client, the one who pays, who expects a kind of magic. Design must — to do its job well and even elegantly — also appear invisible.

What are the questions for responsibility if we think of the designer as inhabitant of the world first, designer second?

It’s an impossible question — at its heart lays a paradox.  The paradox allows an opening from thickness toward abundance — speculative abundance. Thinking about the propositions that underpin a question is a fruitful method for inventing something we didn’t know before: making space for something to surface or become apparent. This kind of questioning offers clues and counterpoints, as well as aporia (blind spots and impossible conundrums), anomalies that in singular moments have the potential to enact the clinamen, a sudden swerve in thinking and action that transforms the field of play. This kind of question is quite different to the question that links reductive reasoning and inevitable answers. What is the role of graphics in clarifying identity for clients? — becomes, can graphics alone clarify identity? Often graphics are perceived as an almost invisible layer between the ‘consumer’ and the client, the operative tool that in unlocking desire forms brand identification. Extending the question slightly results in quite a different set of design problems: how can identity be clarified when (and if) what characterises identity is change?

This is a question on the side of life — a way of thinking about what it is to be human, beyond that enlightenment figure of grandiose projection, towards the human as sets of relationships in-motion with all facets of the world.

With this mode of questioning in mind this text thinks in three constellations — passage, image, breath — that are each, in-themselves, related to the other.

Passages and places

Stories link places. In Athens  — Michel de Certeau tells us — buses and trains are called metaphori, to move around one takes a ‘metaphor’. In this way de Certeau tells the reader a story about the way story links places: stories make spatial trajectories.1

What marks the difference and delimitation between place and space? Place is composed of distinct elements or components, each in a location proper to its capacities, which in turn implies stability. Space, on the other hand, is defined by variables of time, direction, and speed (velocity) and as such is characterised by elements in motion.2

If I substitute place for passage I begin to get a sense of something that works between space and place, and in doing so acknowledges change as the inherent quality of lived life. Passage is the possibility of changing form over time and space rather than in the way of route and direction, (as if time were only linear, and as if ideology defined life). Place and Space are two determinations that delineate the operations of stories. Place sides with monumental time, where beliefs are figured on past events that define a primary narrative whose task it is to control forces toward an already under-stood definition: de Certeau defines this eloquently as the being-there of elements that are dead or inert. Space on the other hand is becoming, it’s the time of the possible impossible: that which cannot yet be known or understood. Passage makes an open map, a map responsive to change. Design shapes, defines and controls communal space, by the arrangement of lines, shapes, volumes, and surfaces. This is the ‘given’ of design, the principles that can be conveyed by textbooks, mimicry and market competition. However, the textbook / toolkit approach isn’t enough in a globalised digital communications environment, “…the tool is not only a means but also a vector of efficacy.”3 As in risky visual art practice — research-driven and transdisciplinary — the best design practice works in a processual manner toward the spark of the new, devising novel approaches to reignite that which is already known with an element of surprise and transformation, thereby opening possibilities for unanticipated events and stories.

Passage makes an open map, a map responsive to change. Design shapes, defines and controls communal space

Change is the generator of life. Designers — especially designers of environmental graphics and spatial arrangements to house the body, the brand, and the ‘idea’ — frequently use the terms ‘placemaking’ and ‘storytelling.’ Typically an architectural/urban design team is tasked with the design of civic spaces that are comfort-able, safe and identity-forming. In use ubiquitously and often unthought, ‘placemaking’ falls easily to idealism, on the side of the ‘Good’ & ‘Proper’, silencing (whether intentional or not) difference, the discursive voice, dissonance and noise.4 It’s an inherent quality of ‘human’ to be estranged; some argue the necessity of feeling sadness, grief and the passing of time.5 Sentimentality and Doing Good can be the greatest enemies of difference. Engagement without the piety and benevolence of the State — sans for-the-Good-of-the-People — is key to working within the worlds of singularity and difference. Focus groups, for example, assume a common denominator; marketing in bed with technological advances (databases of user information gathered and stored, distributed in various ways from mobile phone technology, online billing practices, internet user preferences eg, Facebook) has become more and more finely tuned toward smaller groups with varying individual preferences, where the groups themselves are constantly changing. The entire world of commerce moves to the beat of have-it-all-now individual wealth, the sanctity of property before human life, happiness and celebrity at any cost — a furby — a pure abstraction — driven by, one could argue, fear and fascination with death.  Agitations of the soul are recouped under benevolent clichés or feel-good statements — ‘I want to give something back’ — that close the gaping sore that is the reality of an unjust world without affecting any real change. These are awful conundrums that feed political in-action by those of us who form the 10% of the global population that benefits from design.6

In a more affirmative manner — but no less troubling for the discipline of design — re-mix cultures of artists and designers sample the soupy sea of images and sounds to make their own place in the world. Entirely bypassing the benevolent spaces of those that would help or know, mix-ups and mash-ups just do it, challenging the very premises of visual art and design as a practice for the initiated.

Image: Speed & Slowness

Things that go by the name ‘image’ include pictures, graphics, symbols, emblems, icons, optical illusions, ideas, spaces, concepts, maps, diagrams7,  dreams, visions,8  hallucinations, spectacles, projections, sounds, music, reputations, poems, pat-terns, memories, and metaphors.

On dream-images Freud wrote;

“…what characterizes the waking state is the fact that thought activity takes place in concepts and not in images. Now dreams think essentially in images; and with the approach of sleep it is now possible to observe how, in proportion as voluntary activities become more difficult, involuntary ideas arise, all of which fall into the classes of images.”9

This sequence continues and seems to be concerned with the hallucinogenic quality of the dream-image and the way it gathers authenticity and the ability to be represented.10 Bio-power (the enhancement of life in ways organic and inorganic) in conjunction with cinema, gaming cultures and  all scales of networked communications — the screen and its affect — makes irrelevant any universal distinctions between wake and sleep, between concept and image. This void-space and zone of intensity is a force that is/can be harnessed — a diabolical proposition. The forces of consumption ensure subjects attuned to (and inside) the worlds that are generated by auditory and screen commands (mobile phones, gaming worlds). This is not the world of communication: it’s the world of sensory engagement. How to signal/sign in this world? Philosophers invent and recycle theories and concepts that are, in effect, images with which to imagine the world. Currently many architects, visual artists and designers think in a relational manner toward being-in-the-world by using the philosophical concept of ecology as a metaphor. Its activation as a concept is driven by a sense of urgency toward the disaster at-hand, the slow catastrophe and degradation of the primary place we all share — the earth. In conjunction with ‘ecology’ and democracy-yet-to-come, designers and architects read, interpret, imagine and invent the physical and spatial qualities that make spaces work — and by extension — communities liveable. Gilles Deleuze (after Spi-noza) offers an ecology of relations in place of an arborescent and geometric logic of filiation:

“The important thing is to understand life, each living individuality, not as a form, or a development of form, but as a complex relation between differential velocities… it is by speed and slowness that one slips amongst things.”11

Relations between which elements and which groups? The question is causal, but bear with me. In his essay “Virtuosity and Revolution” Paolo Virno considers the concept of the multitude, the way it differs from the notion of ‘The People’. In the democratic-socialist tradition the notion of ‘the people’ is entwined in the existence of the State and is in fact a “reverberation” of it. Virno cites Thomas Hobbes (17th century English political philosopher, and author of Leviathan) who thought of ‘The People’ as having one will, who acted with one will, the “People”, wrote Hobbes, “rules in all Governments, the King is the People.”12 Clearly this historical understanding of ‘The People’ as a unitary body of single-minded citizens does not hold true. Liberty and freedom come at a cost to sovereignty and the world now functions as a multitude of wills, demands, and desires that touch upon each other affecting each other in ways that are hostile, empowering, parasitic and beneficial.

What characterizes the waking state is the fact that thought activity takes place in concepts and not in images

For Swiss designer Ruedi Baur, “the design project could be defined by its systematic attach-ments to an intention to trans-form.”13 He believes that design, has founding beliefs — ‘interests’ — that are radically different to those of the market.

I want to think a little here with the ‘intention to transform’ and the idea and role of ‘making beautiful’. The aesthetisization of the world toward increasing market share and individual wealth springs from the assumption that beauty in art and design is a-political, and un-messy. The effects of this belief or understanding of aesthetics has been utilised in the propaganda mode of design toward national-ism, where place and essential qualities go hand in hand, where the human form is primary, and often Olympian, and where the desire for home acts as the primary motivator for the ‘normal’ subject.14 The search for the in-common factor cannot fail to be reductive when the greatest thing ‘we’ share is difference and the necessity to breathe.

Is it possible for design to be artless? By artless I mean unworked, paradoxically the unworked will fail to appear without a lot of work. Design as a set of strategies rather than a language of styles is able to connect at the level of sensory engagement rather than communication (which finds its normative level in sets of ideological beliefs that delimit the possibilities of vital activity). The artless in design could move someway toward opening up meaning to more than intention, be it the designer’s or the client’s. This is a tricky proposition for design given the habit of on time, on budget, and on track, and the propensity to analyse the appearance of things in the mode of semiotics. The premise for the call for the artless in design is threefold: risk-taking opens the door to the possibility of what is not yet known; meaning becomes open to the engagement of the one who experiences; willfully slowing down resists the dehumanising culture of managerialism (control-over) in all its ubiquitous forms. Stimulating desire and action in ways that perhaps bear the trace or the ghosting of the total work of art — the Gesamtkunstwerk — is not without risk (cf. fn. 14). The artless trick is no trick at all, rather more a kind of hope, with faith, that the work of images can flow with the stream of life rather than the closing-down assurance of death.

“… it is by speed and slowness that one slips amongst things.”15

Design knows how to do fast time — deadlines and market forces bring to bear regimes and habits of speed. A critical question for design methodology concerns the making of space for slow time — the time of the planet and by extension the cosmos — which is other-than-chronological time. The time of transformation is often much slower than regimes of managerial/marketing forces would allow. Slowing down allows for the initiation of exchange between inside and outside, between same and different: what does the ‘occupier’ of space and time — the one who engages — bring to the interior (this text for example), to reading, to experiencing — what marks do they leave? For as long as humans have existed we (‘we’ in our different cultural permutations) have designed objects that fulfil utilitarian purposes most effectively, and also to varying degrees, satisfy the desire and pleasure we take in beauty, awe, fascination, wonder and transformation/change. This could be called the miracle factor, the awe-inspiring moment that shocks one out of knowing into something much larger and timeless, something other to oneself.

Breath — surface/inter-face — hospitality/welcome

Experimental imprecision, the occurrence of unexpected events, are the signs that reality is a hollow image and that it’s structure is alveolar. — Bernard Cache, Earthmoves: The Furnishing of Territories

Architectural space/surface frames the image, the action and the movement. Here a question for hospitality and welcome: how to design for the unexpected, in such a manner that the unexpected is not annihilated before it has a chance to appear, or even at the moment it may appear — how to welcome the stranger.

Alveoli are the tiny sacs in the lungs that contain and process the air we breathe. The sac alveolus is the place where CO2 from the bloodstream is converted into in O2 and released back into the flow of blood. Bernard Cache’s metaphor for unexpected  events — catastrophes — suggests that it is the catastrophe, the unexpected, which allows us to breathe — the shock of being alive — implying that most of the time, in the world of work-as-life, we are automatons.

Osmosis is the action that lets the outside in and the inside out.

A porous surface allows the passage from one space to another, and the transformation from one state to another. Bill Hillier (a British architectural theorist) developed ‘axial space’ to enable him to con-figure a vocabulary for human movement that would take account of micro and macro spatial configurations, local and global. The most accessible and permeable pathways he terms ‘shallow’. Segregated pathways he terms ‘deep’, these routes are the least permeable to variable human movement and change.16 Whilst Hillier’s diagrams and sections seem overly defined and quantified (something to do with the qual-ity of the line and the way it works toward division) the point is his philosophical image is much more porous and perme-able than his representation of the idea — simply because it is a representation that attempts to define a set of instructions. One needs aesthetics and the sublime experience, which as Ranciere reminds us must of necessity be a mode of experience that is aesthetic “in so far as it is not — or at least not only — art.”17

“…language and imagery are no longer what they promised to be for critics and philosophers of the Enlightenment — perfect transparent media through which reality may be represented to the understanding. For modern criticism, language and imagery have become enigmas, problems to be explained, prison-houses which lock the understanding away from the world.”18 Mitchell wrote this in 1986. Now the metaphor for the opaqueness of meaning is less that of prison-house and more appropriately a soupy sea where everything is available and manifests in ways that resist previous modes of categorization — through the Internet, cable, pixels, vectors lines, 3D graphics engines, and screens that respond to touch enabling images to be squeezed, moved, resized, and generally manipulated with all the tools graphics packages and programming provide, by direct contact with fingers and screen. This function has been incorporated into 3G mobile phone technology, making direct links between auditory, visual and tactile engagements and the environment that has become so much more porous than the relation-ship between a discrete body and a discrete space. It’s our language that needs to catch up — the optical (as representation) and literary (as cultural memory) rely on cognitive maps that are delimiting.19

Matter itself is an “aggregate of images” according to Henri Bergson, thinker of memory and the virtual. He clarified his understanding of image to mean “a certain existence which is more than that which an Idealist calls a representation, but less than that which a realist calls a thing — an existence placed halfway between the ‘thing’ and the ‘representation.’”20 Bergson took as his philosophical problem the relation between body and soul, and it is toward these ends that he sets in play ‘image’ in relation to matter and memory.

“All seems to take place as if, in this aggregate of images which I call the universe, nothing really new could happen except through the medium of certain particular images, the type of which is furnished me by my body.” 21

Design for the unanticipated can only come about through a continual process of work that plays.

Bergson proposes that it is only when an image moves the body, my body, that one notices, takes note and acts. Paradoxically, to be effective images must affect.22 To affect images must work spatially, that is, they are elements within and amongst a field of spatial, aural and visual elements — surfaces that divide and mark territories, elements that define orientation in the world, elements that signify entrances, passages and exits, elements that signal modes of transparency, reflection and visibility.

“How can we present a proposal intended not to say what it is, or what it ought to be, but to provoke thought, a proposal that requires no other verification than the way in which it is able to ‘slow down’ reasoning and create an opportunity to arouse a slightly different awareness of the problems and situations mobilizing us.”23

Given the saturation of all facets of contemporary life with optical and aural devices one has to wonder just what kinds of images are able to move the body beyond those of violence and fear, — can we still imagine that there are abiding images, that is, symbols or emblems that speak across cultural differences toward multiple affects? It is more affective for example, to make various small moves — instigate strategies — rather than styles premised on sovereign order, power and associate identification/ideological signs.

Design for the unanticipated can only come about through a continual process of work that plays.

“Man is only completely human when he plays,” is both a promise and a paradox, wrote Ranciere. In his attention to aesthetics and the political —  he tells us that Schiller’s notion of the “play drive (Spieltrieb) will reconstruct both the edifice of art and the edifice of life.”24

Work is an action, a function and an undertaking; the work is a book, an event (a performance, a painting, an installation, a building, dance, music, the work of theatre). The work of a considered gesture, a place to sit, a story to write, a connection made and a mark that appears and disappears only to reappear again differently. Work is task and toil and also vocation, labor, operation and product, and a barrier (the work endlessly delays my arrival). Work as labour (toward something); work as in succeeds — it works! — work as in task done! (something is made); work(s) as (a) structure, as machinations, and as operations. The work of images (a pause to think): in physics work is the exertion of force that enacts molecular change. In the remark-able everyday of practice one relishes the thinking work in the play of slowing down — change happens when time is made.

Dr Teri Hoskin, Writer and Artist,
Is a curator and designer at the experimental art foundation Adelaide, Australia. She teaches design theory and philosophy in interior architecture.

  1. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: Uni California Press,1988) 115
  2. Ibid 117
  3. François Jullien, Vital Nourishment: Departing From Happiness, trans. Arthur Golhammer (New York: Zone Books, 2007) 95
  4. See for example PPS Projects for Public Spaces, New York,
  5. Eric G. Wilson’s book Against Happiness (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) argues for the necessity of melancholy as a generative force in human cultures, a participation in life that encounters the mess of death and decay as the “fit that shivers our souls”. Wilson decries the covering over of all forms of sadness in the pursuit of happiness as the ‘normal’ state, in effect a soporific existence. “In Praise of Melancholy,” The Chronicle Review. The Chronicle of Higher Education. v54. 9.18 Jan 2008, p B11
  6. Design for the Other 90% curated by Cynthia E Smith, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York
  7. Diagrams as abstract images (over time and space) of ideas, concepts, and connections are given a lot of thought and attention in architecture. A short reading list includes: Peter Eisenmann’s Diagram Diaries (Thames & Hudson, 1999); Thomas Lamarre, “Diagram, inscription, sensation,” A Shock to Thought, Brian Massumi ed., (Routledge, 2002) 149-170.; van Berkel & Bos. Guest Eds., “No. 23. Diagram Work,” ANY. 23 (1998)
  8. Cf. Image as the precursor of Word (of God/Nature), Oskar Kokoschka ‘On the Nature of Visions,’ Art in Theory 1900-2000, eds., Harrison & Wood (Malden (MA): Blackwell, 2003) 97-99
  9. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans., James Strachey (Penguin, 1976)
  10. Authenticity as a concept awaits its 21st century update from Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” What is it to feel one is living authentically? As a concept it fits within the gambit of ‘essential’ and ‘essence’, even crystallization – the experience of the authentic moment isn’t right or wrong, good or bad, simply true, as it is, the real that is existence
  11. Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (City Light Books, 1988) 123. Sixteenth century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza wore a coat with a hole pierced by a knife to remind himself that thought is not always loved. He coined the term ethology to describe the study of relations between an organism and its environment; from French éthologie, from Latin éthologia, art of depicting character, from Greek ethologie: ethos, character
  12. Paolo Virno, “Virtuosity and Revolution,” Make Worlds Festival, 2001 qtd. from Thomas Hobbes De Cive (Oxford U.P, 1983) 151.
  13. Ruedi Baur, “Visual self-satisfaction that is almost universal,” ELISAVA TdD 24: (2007). Special Issue, Critical Design. eds., Daniel Cid, Victor Viña. <>
  14. Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will for the German National Socialists — the Nazi propaganda machine — are a notorious example of the link between the ‘perfect’ human form, crowds & power, home & hearth
  15. Gilles Deleuze 123
  16. Bill Hillier, Space is the Machine: A Configurational Theory of Architecture, (Cambridge U. P., 1996)
  17. Jacques Ranciere “The Aesthetic Revolution and its Outcomes: Emplotments of Autonomy and Heteronomy,” Heart of Darkness, Curator, Philippe Vergne, (Walker Art Center, 2007) 33
  18. W. J. T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image,Text, Ideology (Chicago: U of ChicagoP, 1986) 2
  19. Attempts to think about the new image mapping and data gathering techniques are nascent in architecture and design which has difficulty articulating image space and spatial practice outside of the obvious benefits to commercial consumption. See for example the close alliance between commercial and public research in Valentina Croci’s article about the work of The Senseable City Lab at MIT “The Social Call,” AD, 78.2  (2008): 134–141
  20. Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (New York: Zone Books, 1991) 9 [Author’s emphasis]
  21. Ibid. 18 [Author’s emphasis]
  22. Even though it’s somewhat reductive to state differences between effect and affect, nevertheless it helps to think of effect as the product or agent of a cause that changes, whilst affect is the sensate response to an environment: affect takes account of phenomena that resists quantification, for example, memory through touch, desire and singularity.
  23. Isabelle Stengers, “The Cosmopolitical Proposal” Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, eds., Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. Curators. Exhibition 2005 (ZKM & MIT Press, 2005) 994
  24. Jacques Ranciere 32

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