Ge Wang is currently an Associate Professor at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), creator of the ChucK audio programming language and for being the co-founder, chief technology officer (CTO), and chief creative officer (CCO) of Smule.
Ge has just published, in the form of a graphic novel, a textbook and manifesto on design based on his work as a musician/inventor/programmer/developer/teacher: Artful Design: Technology in search of the Sublime. As a textbook, it is filled with exercises in programming (all centered around music, including using the ChucK programming language), that highlight key thoughts from the chapters. What differentiates this from other programming or design texts are two strong elements that the reader must consider from their own value system and their own experiences: what are the ethical concerns to be addressed in designing anything, from physical objects to programs sold in an app store, and where does design move from “best practices” to becoming “sublime”.
When he speaks of what are ethics and what is the sublime, he does reach back into the roots of philosophy (Aristotle), humanism in the romantic period (Schiller), and others, along with his own professors and mentors (Perry Cook receiving great attention in one section of the book) where the invention and creation of musical instruments is so cleverly woven into the ideas of aesthetics, utility, purposefulness, delight, whimsy, and, more deeply, the ability to design for humans to communicate and connect with little friction–through music.
Here is where ethics and the sublime meet, in the purpose of what is designed is to improve the condition of whoever is using the object, service, system, tool, instrument, or app. This takes Human Centered Design, Design Thinking, User Experience and Art and blends them to consider higher purposes and deeper consequences for both individuals and society at large when taking on the mantel of “DESIGNER”. This is going beyond “design to delight the end user” to designing in order to evoke the sense of what is sublime.
As a review, this short piece, and even the interview below with Ge Wang. where I talk with him about morality, ethics, design and a little LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, is far too reductive to cover the material and the manifesto, which has been deeply thought out and should be read to understand. Beyond reading the book, his conceptual framework may be clearer you do even one of the practice exercises, as design should be experienced as a process, perhaps even more than just understood as a set of principles or methods.
On the inside of the back cover he has printed his eight laws of ARTFUL DESIGN, and that might be enough to interest you to read (and, as I have, annotate for myself) this sublime book on design.
LAWS OF ARTFUL DESIGN
- Design is the artful shaping of our world into something USEFUL and HUMAN.
- Anything worth designing is worth designing BEAUTIFULLY.
- Design is an act of ALIGNMENT with our notions of the purposeful and the good.
- Design is the radical synthesis of MEANS and ENDS.
- Design not only from NEEDS — but from the VALUES behind them.
- Design is the embodies CONSCIENCE of technology.
- Design should UNDERSTAND US.
- What we MAKE, MAKES US.