Theory Is A Good Idea

by mo on Monday, March 28, 2011

Soar's article helped me to further concretise my own ideas about the role of design theory and the designer – he admits that there is a growing movement of anti-intellectualism, provoked by the fact that in its complex and arcane nature, design theory and semiology has “remained elusive to most people. The main reason for this is fairly simple: its advocates have written in a style that ranges from the obscure to the incomprehensible.” (Soar 2002, p. 133)

British scholar, Terry Eagleton, once pointed out that “hostility to theory usually means an opposition to other people’s theories and an oblivion of one’s own” (Soar 2002, p. 132). Note that the word hostility suggests a sense of avoidance – the seemingly inaccessible nature of design theory means that people actually try to avoid theory that they don't agree with. If they were to debate it on the other hand, it would be another story, because then at least, a dialogue would be in place rather than hostile silence.

What Soar suggests is that we must discuss theories within a framework that engages people, otherwise there is no point to it. As the philosopher Jacques Derrida, once pointed out:

“The one thing that is unacceptable these days – on TV, on the radio, or in the papers – is intellectuals taking their time, or wasting other people’s time…Time is what media professionals must not waste – theirs or ours." (Soar 2002, p. 135)

Placing the problem at hand into our contemporary context: "Everyday life, supersaturated with images and jingles, makes intellectual life look hopelessly sluggish, burdensome, difficult. In a video-game world, the play of intellect – the search for validity, the willingness to entertain many hypotheses, the respect for difficulty, the resistance to hasty conclusions – has the look of retardation." The solution then perhaps, is to find a middle ground with the "common man" and from there, build upon it so that theory is intertwined into their day-to-day life.

Soar, M. 2002, ‘Theory Is A Good Idea’, in Bierut, M., Drenttel, W. & Heller, S. 2002, Looking closer, Allworth Press, New York.


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