Found Objects and Interaction Design

Fjord Family

Visiting Tate Britain’s celebration of artist Kurt Schwitters last week, I was struck by a feeling that I was getting both an education and affirmation.

Schwitters, fleeing a Nazi regime who branded him as a subversive, was eventually best known for his collages or ‘merz’ as he named them. These were a combination of all available materials, re-situated for artistic purposes: a pram wheel, wire-netting, string and cotton wool, sweet wrappers, bus tickets, metal toys, pieces of linoleum and a scrubbing brush.

As designers creating services that make sense of a multitude of connected devices, I think we can learn a lot from Schwitters’ approach.

Schwitters work not only stands on its own as pieces of art, but also tells us a story about context within which they were created. Making his work from discarded everyday items, it reflected the environment in which it was made. He brought new meaning to existing objects and art, which we then re-contextualise by layering on our own life experiences and mindsets when we look at them.

It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to me to remember that as UX designers, we can consider the operating systems, devices, learnt behaviours, usages and expectations as the collages we have to create. Our ability (or not!) to enable users to weave their own experiences around these is the service design task, and it bears comparison with the ‘merz’ approach Schwitters pioneered. This, I think, requires a different approach and set of tasks from designing beautiful interfaces on a purely surface and pixel perfect level.

The thinking, exploring and curiosity that goes into creating services that have longevity beyond their original intention is fast becoming the focus of the service designer’s role. Far from being scared of making radical collages, I think the ‘merz’ idea of Schwitters’ can help to set us free to think about UX in fascinating, as well as familiar, ways.

Kurt Schwitters is at Tate Britain until 12th May.

Fjord Family

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