< MetaDeSign > the setting of a discipline

Technology based on the transmission and computation of information influences organization models (modes of production, work and knowledge) and affects the communication process (code, symbol) and the social relations as well as their spatialisation. The investigation in information design is thus based on the question of the recent technological progress and how it influences the definition of design, its methods and purposes

A technology is not an independent or alien object, it complements integrally our sensorial and cognitive system; as a medium, it conditions not only communication modes but also the way we perceive and conceive our environment.

The technological developments of the last decades are at the base of the shift from industrial to post-industrial information society, where computation and communication technologies extend our very 'senses'. The notions of body, matter, space and time are increasingly defined by the unit of information; its structures, processes and systems introducing new parameters of space and time - presence, such as immersion (real/virtual) and interaction (real-time/entropy) as well as new parameters of materiality (nano-technologies and smart memory materials) or biological (gene technologies) ones in its definition. The fusing of sophisticated industrial production methodologies and materials, as genetic engineering, product design (imagineering)...with digital media binds together aesthetics with living materials - us included - and information technologies, opening a huge scientific and artistic field of exploration for new cultural codes and semantics.

Triggered by technological advances, new codes (semantics) and methods (practice) appear often revealed by the term that is used to qualify them, as for example the word 'design' came up in the beginning of the last century according to the shift of pre-industrial to industrial society. The emergence of the concept of 'design' around the Bauhaus and particularly El Lissitzky had the intended purpose of qualifying artistic concerns in relation to the technological and social changes in order to reintroduce them in the concept of art itself.



"...the meaning of all media is the experience of using these extensions of yourself. Meaning is not 'content' but an active relationship" (1971 Marshall McLuhan)

De(to do)sign () means making something and distinguishing it by a sign, giving it significance. But 'meaning' indicates not only the significance of something to us, but also our intention toward it, bridging the gap between the technical realm and the setting of engagements, disciplines. In the case of the Bauhaus this enlarges the understanding of the aims pursued in the definition of new concepts and methods in relation to the ongoing social and cultural processes. But the term of design itself has evolved, as technology did, to industrial design, system design etc. As non-exclusive these terms can be and as interwoven the developments and purposes are, they still target at the definition of disciplines with their own methodology, in relation to the actual technological state.

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Nowadays computation and communication technologies provide us with an incremental potential in terms of tools and control which itself leads to the raise of new disciplines, methods and questions. The current technological and social changes argue that merging the growing trans/inter disciplinary fields of information design into a new discipline is potentially the next step.

But to fully understand the questions around information design one has first to understand that it is not only about the use of computers in the design process. It is actually designing the processes in close relation to the specificities of the media and this on both the technical and the cultural levels.


Meta, the design of codes and processes

Nelson describes the hypertext in these terms: it is about a unified concept of ideas and inter-connected data, and the ways in which these ideas and these data can be edited on a computer screen. As every communication system, IC technologies determine a transmission channel (signal, medium), a message and a code, but their very own property is to operate on any kind of information a reduction in a sequential form of elementary information coded in a binary language, 0/1 or bit/second. This reduction to a basic and common unit, the binary signal, is a necessary condition of any information processes, computation - formalization, editing - storage, communication - transmission. These processes include actively the manipulation of data through codes into information, which could be expressed like:

[Data < > language/code < > information]

Any information is based on a pattern (a structured combination) legible and transmissible after coding/decoding treatment but always subordinate to a computation process; a binary data flow. In this manner it is the medium through its inherent processes that unifies information as well on the structural level as on the semantic one. Furthermore the process of binary encoding/decoding is also a factor of transmissibility (any type of information using the same support passing through the same channels). In this manner, Information technologies determine the information space, the network, as a transmission device, weaving temporal interconnections, a space composed and decomposed by data and the flows, which transport it. The notion of flow being necessarily subordinated to space and time, information thus can be described as a spatial-temporal system which dynamic state is the result of processes - it defines the appearance of any information as a temporarily state; it is the transposition of all stable ' FORM ' in ' InFORMation '.

The ongoing augmentation in computational power increases the complexity of codes and signs systems and underlines at the same time an historic passage from hypertextual structures to hypermedia ones. Factually Hypermedia is about the programmatic description of the spatial and temporal structure between data and any kind of information. In short: information needs information in order to be processed - it is the Meta-level of information describing the structures, the processes and the codes - it is the passage from rough sequenced data to structured accessible and legible information.

In Philosophy or Human Sciences, Meta means, ' what goes beyond or what is more comprehensive or fundamental'. In Computer Science, Meta is a common prefix that means 'about'. For example, metadata is data that describes other data (data about data). One could describe any computer programming as a meta-language for interacting with a computer. Generally speaking 'meta' defines the semantics of the data value, as well as the data needed to build any kind of representation. In consequence technology delivers not only content but also through its codes and structures, a specific meaning. This specific meaning is described by the 'meta information' defining a relation between technology, structure, sign and content.

These considerations and specificities of Information technologies show that as far as design is concerned, one has actually to design the meta-level, i.e. the codes the information will be processed both in technical and representational aspects. This specificity of digital technologies brings up new design methodologies; it reveals the integration of time as an active and open parameter in any form of digital production - becoming a process and system itself.

It is the conception of an open - programmable temporal and spatial structure like for example the one of the hypertext, which as an indexing system allows to interconnect in multi-linear ways any digital information due to semantic (hyperlink) and spatial (ip:adress) attributes. In Information technologies the interaction between information and a user even more reveals the design of open processes or systems which integrate the users interaction as an 'active' part in the structure of information itself - as it is present in the hypertext or other multi-linear systems. In consequence in digital media it is far more coherent to think in term of process rather than in term of finished products.

But information technologies through new forms of organising, storing and processing data are the expression of new forms of meaning like processual and reticular thought.


from Architecture to Meta.Design

A public library is a place to access information - it represents knowledge, a humanist value - in networks we represent knowledge to be accessed - it represent shared knowledge, - an informational value.

Architecture and Urbanism are structural and functional disciplines involved in the spatial and temporal organization of social, economic, political...structures through which they also constitute a semantic system of signs and codes. All these aspects define them as organizational disciplines that process, analyse and structure data while improving it with a specific significance - meaning. As disciplines they are based on methods of abstraction and formalization of spatio-temporal systems that bridge the gap between the denoted, 'concrete' levels of meaning, and the connoted, 'abstract' ones. For example the process of conception and realisation of a form (building) in relation to its functions or the organisation of infrastructural flows, signaletics and urban structures, already give an understanding of the complexity between structures, systems - sign and language.

Information flows in its processes of computation, communication and storage are spatial and temporal forms of organisations of data based on semantic units and systems, language while improving them with functionality and representation. Therefore a series of relations can be drawn between the practice and methods of architecture and information design in the structuring and visualization of information - like it is present in the development of cartographies, diagrams and maps, graphical user interfaces and hardware interfaces as in the development of the spatial construct itself, like networks and electronic space. The comparison between communication modes, its structures (indexing linking) and processes (computation communication) and spatial constructs (architecture and urbanism) is thus based on its organizational principles binding high level of abstraction within specific modalities of perception and cognition in the construct of meaning - semantic level.

'MetaDesign' thus displays the theme of new space constructs relative to new social, cultural, spatial structures and flows as much as it operates on the level of language. In this manner Metadesign, can be defined as a practice grounded on the inherent logics of computation and communication technologies in the visualisation and formalisation of inFORMation processes in textual, graphical, spatial and multi-dimensional representations.

In summary, MetaDesign is about the setting of codes / language drawn from concepts of communication and information sciences - cognitive science with that of process methods, design and spatial constructs - architecture.


META |DE|sign - when concepts turn into methods and processes

"aesthetics begins as patterns of recognition." Friedrich Kittler in Literature, media, information systems 1997 page 130

Technologies shape new semantic structures in the common understanding of information its processes and systems - patterns. MetaDesign thus deals with new 'senses' as components of language, while augmenting our cognitive capacities that influence our psychic state (consciousness), our emotional and social behaviour and thus participate as much in the individual project as to the collective. Consequently, in the field of new medias, it is important to understand the relation that is established between perception (the use of senses), recognition, comprehension and the representation (the extraction of sense/meaning), and the action that results from it (production of sense/meaning). This relation can be defined as ' from sense (esthesis) to sense (semiosis) - focusing on the exploration of the perceptive and cognitive (meaning extraction) capacities (abilities) between the perceptual and conceptual, the analogue and the digital.

In the determination of a discipline, MetaDesign focuses on the setting of sign and codes based on patterns of recognition in order to define an intersubjective approach in the field of artistic work and practice, able to quantify and systematize its methodologies and to prove the transferability of its theory. It is about aesthetics as a structuring feature of knowledge and culture in order to build up connectivity and efficiency, a meta-language.


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