As our everyday social and cultural experiences are increasingly mediated by electronic products—from "intelligent" toasters to iPods—it is the design of these products that shapes our experience of the "electrosphere" in which we live. Designers of electronic products, writes Anthony Dunne in Hertzian Tales, must begin to think more broadly about the aesthetic role of electronic products in everyday life. Industrial design has the potential to enrich our daily lives—to improve the quality of our relationship to the artificial environment of technology, and even, argues Dunne, to be subverted for socially beneficial ends.
The cultural speculations and conceptual design proposals in Hertzian Tales are not utopian visions or blueprints; instead, they embody a critique of present-day practices, "mixing criticism with optimism." Six essays explore design approaches for developing the aesthetic potential of electronic products outside a commercial context—considering such topics as the post-optimal object and the aesthetics of user-unfriendliness—and five proposals offer commentary in the form of objects, videos, and images. These include "Electroclimates," animations on an LCD screen that register changes in radio frequency; "When Objects Dream...," consumer products that "dream" in electromagnetic waves; "Thief of Affection," which steals radio signals from cardiac pacemakers; "Tuneable Cities," which uses the car as it drives through overlapping radio environments as an interface of hertzian and physical space; and the "Faraday Chair: Negative Radio," enclosed in a transparent but radio-opaque shield.
Very little has changed in the world of design since Hertzian Tales was first published by the Royal College of Art in 1999, writes Dunne in his preface to this MIT Press edition: "Design is not engaging with the social, cultural, and ethical implications of the technologies it makes so sexy and consumable." His project and proposals challenge it to do so.
About the Author
Anthony Dunne is Professor and Head of Interaction Design at the Royal College of Art. He is also a Partner in the design practice Dunne & Raby, London.
"A worthwhile challenge to the market subservience that dominates industrial design, indicating some of the ways of turning design towards more speculative, critical possibilities."—Design Philosophy Papers
"This compact manifesto is essential reading for anyone who's ever used an electronic product. Hertzian Tales explores the complex chemistry whereby industry, design, use, misuse, and marketing all combine to form product. But while products are often boring, Dunne sees the potential for them to offer the sorts of 'complicated pleasures' we get from film or literature, and points to concrete ways that poetic products could be engineered. A theorist and practitioner, Dunne sees industrial design as a form of popular culture, and his analysis of that culture is accessible and profound."
—Christopher Csikszentmihlyi, MIT Media Lab
"In refreshing contrast to the widespread, breathless adulation of new electronic gadgets, Dunne demonstrates that product design can and should be subject to a level of critical reflection that goes far deeper than packaging and superficial features and functionalities. And by daring to question some cherished myths of the design profession—such as the presumed merits of 'user-friendliness'—he opens up the possibility of a richer, more nuanced, but often disquieting discourse about designed objects and the social values and relationships they enable or suppress."
—Janet Abrams, Director, University of Minnesota Design Institute, editor of If/Then: Play and coeditor of Else/Where: Mapping.
"Anthony Dunne's thoroughly researched book is a harbinger of the future—a future where invisible electromagnetic spaces with their surreal qualities become a major component of architectural ambition and aspiration. Marvel at the secret lives of dreaming electronic objects and enjoy this fantastic odyssey. And see the future fully for the first time."
—Neil Spiller, Professor of Architecture and Digital Theory and Vice Dean, Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
"Design culture asks not just how sleek or usable some object is, but what it actually inclines us to do. As the world slowly realizes that electronic objects cannot be exceptions to this rule, it is worth remembering how early and how well Dunne & Raby showed us so. At last in an edition worthy of its role, Hertzian Tales offers provocations whose significance has only increased."
—Malcolm McCullough, University of Michigan, author of Digital Ground