Ariana Amacker

University of Gothenburg

Exploring aesthetic experience in design research by using artistic methods 

This project aims to contribute to an aesthetic perspective and fuller experiential view of design (embodied) knowledge. The focus is on how the aesthetic representations used by designers convey non-instrumental, non-static or “felt” qualities of experience beyond explanatory representations of experience, and what an aesthetic approach to representing an experience gives to a change in understanding (or questioning) of the “gestalt” of the experience.

Pragmatist philosophy serves as theoretical and methodological point of departure to understand the nature of embodied knowledge and aesthetics because it rejects the dualism between thought and action in traditional research approaches. Pragmatism takes up the view that experience cannot be reduced to language, and thus, aesthetics is inherent to producing and conveying design knowledge. The body being a place of knowledge requires an ontological shift from serving only an intended objective and the interpretive reading of symbolic aspects of gestaltning, towards an experiential, process- oriented knowledge construction. Thus, it is assumed that a hands-on experimental approach, and specifically my experience, serves as a source of embodied knowledge for design research. This is intended to be an empirical application and exploration of John Dewey’s concept of aesthetic experience in order to consider its implications for perceiving design knowledge and for design research and practice more generally.

The goal is to test methods for exploring sensory qualities of experience using an artistic research approach. In particular I will use methods of representation from the performance arts to understand how they contribute to an aesthetic perspective of managing experiences. Some experience-based and bodily methods in design like bodystorming, role play, and acting out scenarios, etc. are already being used in participatory design practices since they offer the opportunity to work with and understand the physical experience of a design. Instead of using these methods to replicate or translate an experience semantically, I am interested in how they can be used to generate a more conceptual interactional gestalt or be used as an interpretive technique to abstract sensorial and emotional frames of experience. For example, how might designers think about the mental representations that underlie emotional experience of social interaction, and how might that can contribute to knowledge on managing emotional experiences as part of experiential design? Perhaps more importantly, because aesthetic representation is not a purely symbolic or reductive representation of experience, but also an expression of ideas or qualities, how can experience-based and bodily methods be used as a way to construct knowledge in open-ended ways in design research more directly (because the experiencing body is simultaneously producing and produced by a bodily representation)? For example, in collaborative design projects, how can embodied experiences of participants inform an emergent or self-determining structure of the creative work without predetermined goals or a functional understanding the work being sought? I am interested in how the doing of representations might serve as a medium of experimentation and source of reflection, and therefore equally as valid as the rationalization of the symbolic and ‘factual’ nature of material representations.