Dataesthetic Principles of Networks, Form and Design

The primacy of information in all aspects of life requires a new understanding of aesthetic values.  The nature and scale of this change, from an industrial to information driven world, has deep implications, already reflected in visual design.  New realities have transformed aesthetic systems, so it’s useful to consider a dataesthetic perspective.

Form and function follow information.  Information easily accommodates both as variables, but neither exist without data.  Data drives all functionality: from cars to George Foreman grills. Information’s value today is reflected in its price… it’s so expensive that it’s frequently marketed with cheap/free hardware (think cell phones)!  Many households spend more on cable tv and telephones (including cell lines) than any perishable other than groceries!

Modularity of data implies modular functionality as well as form. Cut/paste/copy.  Fold/spindle/mutilate.  This is the most common technique and feature of new media.  New media characteristics implied: numeric core, modularity, variability, automation, and transcoding.  Modularity is a cardinal virtue of digital media objects, but may be even more important for tools.  Modular design is efficient, taking less time to deliver, or reserving more time to address aesthetic balance.

The screen is primary in a windowed reality, where any surface can be the canvas (tactile,electronic, ink, paint; all can be digitally applied to any facade). Screen and type size, shape, color and placement are ideally determined by the data. A screen is ideally a collection of scalable, modular elements, referenced as fields in relational databases that can be transcoded in whole or in part to any application.

More from less.  Information density is so great that individuals cannot possibly manage it in any direct, unmediated manner.  The best designs deliver the most information in the shortest amount of time (time being a cardinal value).  Authors aim to distill a narrative or conceptual framework into a database with a scalable delivery vehicle.  Compiling and delivering many (dissociated) separate works in a unified, harmonious package is a design task requiring balance and harmony.  Collaboration can be ad-hoc or even oppositional!

Binary relationships and hierarchical menus reflect the native structure of our tools (databases and file structures).  Design must harmonize our need for play, desire for balance with the nature of our tools to make the best of both, and offset the worst aspects of each.

Discrete channels of communication expand understanding. Just as one cannot experience music or art through words, one cannot capture the richness of life with video or pictures alone.  The ready ability to manipulate reality in sophisticated, and cheap, ways require very rich mediated interactions to feel satisfying or remotely comfortable.

Mass-customization of information delivery and display maximizes attention, understanding and data density.  Dataesthetic design considers the user’s identity and goals, in relation to the content and previous users, to determine how and what data will be presented.

Sharing beats controlling. Exclusivity is over-rated in a hyper-social world. Limiting access and usage of a work, the controllers limit it’s ultimate value, both long and short term. The opportunity-cost in the social and branding realm are so great for any attempt to control a mark, melody or line of type is enormous; when people don’t feel free to borrow and share your work you are socially shunned. More: all social relevance and benefits flow from sharing, not “like”ing. You can get/buy like’s in bulk, but legitimate shares in your demographic cost a lot more (and often involve user-trickery).

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