Product13 is my visual studies studio. I have made art for over 20 years. That work has informed how I practice UX.
Problems and Goals
Sculpture starts with three questions,
- What am I making?
- Why am I making it?
- How do I make it?
Form has surface and structure. Seeing something gives an idea about it. A surface understanding. Sit with it and ask why. A lattice of connections and understanding takes shape. The structure.
There is surface and there is structure.
It is echoed in many things, societally, lingually, psychologically. The surface of how we present ourselves and it’s relation to the underpinnings that make up who we are.
Initially, for me, “why” was equivalent to “how is it made?”. Over time, in the process of making or re-making whatever it was, a new understanding took shape. New information changed the original question. For instance, in the course of casting something, the weight of the casting material stretches the mold and exaggerates a curve in the object. Understanding that gravity has influenced the product adds a new layer of meaning and query. In making something, inevitably the physical world provides new information. Unpredictable materials and/or circumstances reinvent the object’s conception.
The sculpture becomes an infinity mirror of process informing content informing process ad infinitum.
The surface is what we see and know and how we understand many things in our minds. The structure is what defines the surface. There is certainly overlap as surface can be self supporting and structure can itself be surface, but the two have a long and intertwined history. It is the conversation between surface and structure that my sculpture is listening to.
If surface is like a skin, it is a protective layer for the inside but we only know its topography from the bones behind it. This is a rich mutual dependence.
Process and UX
“Why, for whom, and in what context” is how my UX teacher, Billie Mandel, would have us begin any new project. The answers to these questions shape products. This kind of inquiry produces both an answer and a new reality with it's own questions.
The tools are different, but the process of understanding and then reframing the questions is a shared one.
Sculpture provides me with the foundation that I can build on with UX design.
The abstraction of what we know helps a large system to operate. The recognition of patterns within the abstraction lets us trace back processes in order to better understand cause and effect. In this way, when we are faced with an abstraction of experience without knowing it’s evolution, we can synthesize the data to understand the story and change the future.
Working in the visual arts has provided great experience in the critique process. Critiques cultivate a sense of what questions will get the discussion moving. To develop an awareness of how to get past defensiveness is crucial. If a critique gets stuck in hurt feelings it can make for small thinking, and moving things forward and exploring is the true goal. The hard questions should be asked in a way that is not personal and for the benefit of everyone involved. A good critique may wind up with the person whose work is being critiqued asking the hardest questions of all.
What I've Learned
UX and sculpture share processes that keep them working. The processes yield a sense of discovery that is food for the mind. It is a sea change that discards all previous expectations. When an idea gets turned on it’s head and then turns into something else, that is a sense of discovery like nothing else.
The art critic Harold Rosenberg wrote:
That engagement is what I’m after. That sense of wonder when the unexpected happens– and the change of one’s mindset in response.