Radical Uncertainty – Response Lauren Dark

Lauren Dark

In response to the Radical Uncertainty Webinar, Lauren created Blue Tit Film. Please see Laurens written response below the film.

My response to the event is focused on the recurring theme of birds. Birds became an unexpected vehicle to express how we relate to birds, how birds relate to each other and how they relate to their surroundings. This provides insight into how designers interact with complex systems.  

The first is how we relate to birds. Zoe discussed a problem of metaphors as being too culturally specific and referenced an experience she had whilst working with a group of indigenous women. She spoke about framing ideas around the metaphor of owls and their wisdom. However, the women could not relate and even found it hilarious that someone would think an owl is wise. Their opinion was that owls were dumb and ugly; it was much better to be wise and beautiful like a falcon. This demonstrated how a western metaphor did not translate. Shilpi eloquently discussed the way that designers can unconsciously imprint their own perception of solutions onto an audience without fully understanding their experience of a situation. She stated, “it’s not just looking at, it is looking with”1. In this case, it can be extrapolated to include interspecies design. 

The second is how birds relate to each other. This was an idea introduced by Chris as he discussed the limitations of language. He spoke about how most of our understanding is fixed upon a horizontal plane. If birds had what we understand to be language, then it could be considered three dimensional. This is because birds fly through the volume of the sky instead of the directions limited to a horizontal plane and its gravitational pull.  

The final is how birds relate to their surroundings. A human’s experience of a path is different from a bird’s one. From a human’s point of view, there is a path with walls but from a bird’s, there are areas of light and shade as walls are not a restraint for them. Chris also spoke of how humans see with their brains more than their eyes. “80% of what we see comes from the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus in the brain.”2 This demonstrates how our understanding is limited to our own experience.  

The accompanying video captures these reflections visually. The blue tit in the video gradually transforms into a colour wheel before transforming back. The first part is based on the misconception that information can be communicated through language as a code that can be decoded and reassembled in an identical manner. This transference of information in linguistics is now understood as the inferential model. Sperber and Wilson define this as “intentions [that] are not decoded but inferred”3. This ties in with Shilpi’s notion of looking with as it implies a level of negotiation through conversation to reach a mutual understanding.  

The topic of empathy in design was raised. Whilst it is important to empathise with the situation that is being designed for, understanding is not simply and completely achieved. The video ends with the blue tit pixelating back into a colour wheel but gradually focusing into a circle at the end. This represents the acceptance that some issues exist within a system or colour wheel of complexity. It is not a designer’s role to tackle the entire system but to empathise with a specific part and work collaboratively to achieve some level of understanding. 

1. Radical Methodologies group in conversation with Mihir Bhat, Shilpi Srivastava, Zoe Sadokierski, Chris Rose, and Claudia Westermann, “Radical Uncertainty: Design beyond solutionism.” (Webinar, July 23rd 2021) 

2. Michael Benson, Chris Rose and Andreas Mershin “A Series of Three Conversations: Paradoxing.” Venice Biennial (Webinar, August 8th 2021) 

3. Wilson, Deirdre. 1998. “Linguistic Structure And Inferential Communication”. 16th International Congress Of Linguistics. Oxford: Pergamon. 

Lauren Dark

Lauren is an interdisciplinary designer and researcher. Lauren makes to express concepts identified through my research. Whether it is psychogeography, linguistics or food, Lauren’s aim is to push the boundaries of what is expected in design with an experimental approach. 

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