pavlos hatzopoulos on Mon, 14 Jul 2008 10:53:18 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ecstatic innovation: Digesting, designing and democracy

by Jamie Brassett and Peter Booth

from the Distributed creativity and design special

And ecstasy is the way out! Harmony! Perhaps, but heart-rending. The way
out? It suffices that I look for it: I fall back again, inert, pitiful: the
way out from project, from the will for a way out! For project is the prison
from which I wish to escape (project, discursive experience): I formed the
project to escape from project! (Bataille 1988: 59)


As happens in collaborative writing, we were already several and now only
more so. This article marks a moment—one of many—a bringing together of
vastly different discourses of expertise and theory that are amalgamated by
us, by our names, by our practices. We are both teachers, philosophers and
practitioners of product and packaging design to greater and lesser extents;
and sometimes all at the same time. This is not a frivolous beginning. The
mashing together—like good felt—of these several selves will be the point of
this piece. If felt can have a point. To navigate different discourses and
practices in order to create something that, even if for a fleeting moment,
is creative, is what this piece is about. But it is also a testament to this
idea of becoming felt; a material manifestation of its point. The next
movement in this mashing up will be to send the ideas out to be chewed over
by others and for their responses to be gathered back into the mix. This,
too, is the point. We offer a way of designing that follows our principles
and practice, in order to product truly innovative outcomes.


We have written elsewhere about digesting design and will only mention
briefly the main ideas here. Consumption has defined, for some years now,
the relationship between people and things. This gives nuances to
discussions of taste, of cultures of choice and a myriad other related
notions. The hegemonic nature of this discourse of consumption has, however,
glossed over some important differences that are in need of highlighting.
Consumption is predominantly a mouth-centred activity and cannot stand for
the "living-with" of designed objects that takes place (with some things:
houses, furniture, white goods) over many years. Consumption and tasting can
rarely stand more than 20 chews before the objects are broken down and sent
off to other places, for other processes. We argue that these "other
places"—where digestion happens—offer a better metaphor with which to
understand the everyday, elongated practices that describe people's real
engagement with designed objects. For example, though we may have exercized
judgments of taste in the initial purchase of our sofas—consuming them
proper—after four years of living with these objects, when we are away from
home but we know they are sitting there in our living rooms, we cannot be
said to be consuming them still. Everything that defined the moment of
consumption of this object has passed. Nevertheless this object remains in
our lives, giving off different values as our lives change. We are left,
then, with a refinement of the metaphor to account for the post-consumption
life of objects: and this gives us *digesting*. We should remember that this
is more than an issue of academic pedantry over definitions. When we fold
the whole concept back into the design process, we find that such theorizing
has real, material, everyday effects.


Designing, as practiced, is a teleological process. It starts with a brief,
goes through a number of stages—sometimes folding back to earlier stages in
a reiterative loop—before reaching a goal in an outcome. Innovation through
design only happens within tightly controlled boundaries. For the
philosopher and ex-monk Georges Bataille, such a process was a "project";
which defined the whole experience of something launched at a particular
target. (This was also subsumed under the notion of discursive experience,
which prioritized the values of the written, the rational and the logical
over the passionate, the destructive and the creative; following Nietzsche's
Apollo versus Dionysos.) The design process already mentioned is such a
project: discursive, teleological, constrained. Even when it tries to break
out of these strictures—by, for example, making the User the Centre of
Design—the project remains, even if the conditions according to which the
goal is conceptualized shift slightly. The top-down project still rules—and
either the Designer or the Client occupies this tyrannical position. We
wonder whether a different conception of the design process will offer a
different social, cultural and political outcome. Our contention is that
this change will occur by following a design process motivated by a concept
of digestion. We have found a project to do away with projects.

Innovating Democratically*

For Bataille, doing away with project was "ecstatic": ex-stasis, the moving
out of rest, clinches the deal. Moving out of the top-down constraints of
the design process into something more fluid and creative, as Bataille does
philosophically, offers much. We say that recognizing the digestive nature
of our engagement with designed things will provide a similar ecstasy of
design process.

Designers have been used, over recent years, to looking at people and their
practices as part of the design process. The use of Ethnography as a tool
for doing design research is commonplace. Our initiative is to remove such
observations from the hierarchy of control in which the Designer Knows All
(discovering opportunities in insights) and reposition them in a way that
allows people to initiate design opportunities through their digestions.
Within a digestive project, the designing and redesigning that people (who
were once merely users, or consumers) undertake, are taken seriously,
adopted and adapted. This is more than user-testing or focus-grouping, as
these two activities merely set the responses of the users etc. in already
well-defined projects, as digested things are folded back into the
designers' projects swerving them in hitherto undreamt of directions. The
removal of the locus of power and control from the hierarchic project of
design, will lead to opportunities for innovation that will be constrained
only by the tardiness in producing digestable objects.

Unlike the "sustainable innovation" discussed by Clayton Christensen
(1997)—where innovation happens in tiny steps, building only slightly on
what has gone before—or even his "disruptive innovation"—which targets
different markets and/or uses with existing technologies—this *ecstatic
innovation* allows the possibility for design projects to take utterly
chaotic directions. The outcome of such a digestive approach is a process
which is non-linear and non-teleological, where control of designing is
bottom-up and truly democratic, where clients, designers and
people—digesters all—can negotiate ecstatic innovation in properly creative


- Bataille, G. 1988. *Inner
Translated by Leslie A. Boldt. New York: SUNY Press

-Brassett, Jamie & Peter Booth. 2008 forthcoming. 'Design Digestion. Work in
Progress.' In *Design Principles & Practices: An International

-Christensen, C. 1997. *The Innovator's
Boston: Harvard Business School Press

-Nietzsche, F. 1993. *The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of
Edited by Michael Tanner. Translated by Shaun Whiteside. London: Penguin
Books Ltd.

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