Computation and Adversarial Design

Examples of adversarial design can be found across mediums and forms. Silkscreen posters, celluloid films, and steel sculptures are just as capable of doing the work of agonism as are computer animations, digital photography, and virtual worlds. A history of twentieth-century agonistic work would include examples from all forms and mediums of aesthetic expression in design and the arts—from the collage work of the Dadaists and Futurists, to the sculptural manipulations of the everyday by the Surrealists, to the posters of the Grapus collective in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, to the contemporary architectural, artifact, and performance-based works of Krysztof Wodiczko.12 Just as agonism argues for a pluralism of political positions, so too does adversarial design manifest in a pluralism of mediums and forms.

Although the defining quality of adversarial design is the way it functions and not its form or medium, the mediums and forms of design are central to the activities of design and the experience of designed objects.

Attending to these mediums and forms of design is imperative for insightful descriptions and analyses of artifacts and systems. In some ways, this is a commonsense notion, particularly regarding discussions of art and design. Few scholars would expect a painting and a sculpture to be perceived in the same way and have the same effect on viewers, even if they share subject matter. Likewise, although a common hammer and an air hammer share a general functionality of driving nails, the process of designing each product, the experience of use, and the capabilities they provide vary in nontrivial ways. In a similar manner, although the work of agonism can be done in any medium, the kinds and qualities of work done shifts from medium to medium.

My focus is on designed artifacts and systems that make use of the qualities of computation as a medium. The purpose of focusing on a single medium is to develop a kind of medium particularity in description and analysis. This attention to medium grows from a diverse but coalescing body of scholarship, and the choice of computation as the focus is grounded in the contemporary practices and objects of design. Both of these subjects—the focus on computation and medium particularity—deserve a brief discussion before proceeding, as they frame this inquiry into adversarial design.

 
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