Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Art + Design + Hackability

Here are some extended excerpts from a panel discussion that, when I read it, got me thinking about the upcoming visit in our TECHNE lab of artist-hacker Cory Arcangel:
Design for hackability is best described as critical and playful design practice inspired by historical and current hacker, net art, ‘do-it-yourself’ and ‘re-mix’ cultures and practices.
Hacker cultures date back to 1920s amateur radio and 1950s model railroad enthusiasts; by the 1960s a hack referred to a technologically based prank or any clever technological solution. According to the Hacker Jargon File, hacking can also be understood as interacting with computers in playful and exploratory ways, as well as enjoying the “intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.”


Similar ethics and practices can also be found in punk rock ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) cultures. The general premise behind DIY is that if you do not like the way things are done, then you should do it yourself. DIY culture involves creating your own world amid the dominant culture, thereby putting power back in the hands of individuals. For example, ‘zine (short for magazine) culture is based on self-publishing and the cultural production, rather than consumption, of media. Most recently, DIY ‘zine cultural ethics can be seen in weblog or online journal communities. While ‘zines often reassemble content from other sources — and in the process create something new —‘re-mix’ practices are most commonly associated with DJ cultures. Cutting up, editing and sampling music has been described as “the evolution of our ability as humans to process, manipulate, and make meanings out of an ever-increasing flow of information.”

Like hacker and DIY ethics, remixing involves getting people the materials they need to manipulate or subvert technologies and media to their own needs and desires, to create their own messages and meanings. Further critical performances and practices can be found in net art cultures which use technology to create images and stories that challenge our understandings of technology and the world around us.


Design for hackability draws on all these cultural practices and values. It encourages designers and non-designers to critically and creatively explore technology and media, to reclaim authorship and ownership of new and existing technologies, and of the social and cultural worlds in which we live. Hackability implies more than simple customization or adaptation — it calls for redefinition. Design for hackability involves creating spaces for play where people are never forced to adapt to technology. It involves recognizing and working with tensions between people and artifacts.


These approaches ultimately lead to the breakdown of technological imperialism, where barriers for entry are reduced and playful renderings are valued above functionality.

You can read the whole panel session here.

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