Index of DI

Index of Design Inquiry RULES OF PLAY

1. The house and its inhabitants

The DesignInquiry Universe is represented as an index/archive in a DI Universe manner. The way we archive dictates how we read the artifacts. The decisions we make in creating the format in which the artifacts are housed, has a direct effect on how we perceive the artifacts. Imagine this house, what it’s supposed to feel like, how maze-like or open-lofty we want it to be. The best way to have the house represent its inhabitants is to ask the inhabitants to build the house.

The DI Universe is a constellation, not spreadsheet. Is it ephemeral, inconclusive, open-ended by design. The digital representation for this constellation should embody lightness, generosity, and humor. It should be agile, not precious, allow some edges to overlap. It delights both in the arranged-for and the found.

DI employs a method of structure-no-structure in realizing its programs and projects. In this method the structure is an optical illusion, a ruse put in place to facilitate relationships between people, conversation and meals, and work.

This index/archive structure communicates this narrative through its format, not just< documenting but embodying the DI experience. It is a controlled folly, following its own rules of play. We can think of it as serendipity codified.

There are two interlaced components to this project: an archive and an index.

In the original Index of American Design, compiled in 1935-1942 as a Federal Arts Project work-relief project, each of the 18,257 folk and decorative arts objects were represented in a watercolor drawing. But we use digital media, where the representation *is* the object, making this project both an archive and an index simultaneously.

The archive is the unstructured, narrative description of the artifacts.

The archive is used to document. Each artifact accessed to the collection is documented through biographical information (place, time, creator, inquiry topic), stories, anecdotes, related photograph, text, sound and video, and so forth.

The index is the collection of metadata tags assigned to each artifacts.

The index is used to navigate. Using the metadata collected, it allows an explorer to contextualize and understand the artifact in relation to others.

2. Metadata for inconclusive artifacts

Building on the principle that the artifacts in the collection direct its structure, the tagging of the artifacts will dictate the categories for metadata. We can think of the collection as the mycelium, a living organism under the ground, and the tags as the mushrooms that appear over the floor of the forest: the categories we generate are also artifacts in themselves, and they are rooted in the collection, a living part of it (First heard about mycelium from Lucy Hitchcock). A tube sock can be tagged with a place, a time, ‘ticks’, ‘clothing’, ‘acts of care’ and so forth.

The purpose of this index is not to exhaust each artifact in it, describe it to the bone - that is not possible when the objects’ meaning derives not from their physical properties but from their relations to other objects in the collection. A note from an inquiry, an anecdote, a quick book produced, a website, a video clip - these are artifacts of the DI Universe, not stand-alone products devoid of context.

We should attempt to allow the index visitor to experience the spirit, ethos and aesthetics of DI though the mechanism as well as the result, by brining to the forth the constellation-ness, the relationality, the irregular knit that is DI. The machine that builds the DI index should be a DI machine.

Instead of attempting a conclusive definition, we invite taggers to use natural language to describe and connect the artifacts to the index. We avoid auto-completing and auto-suggesting as to allow taggers to express themselves freely, give them responsibility, and maintain a polyphony of voices. The visibility of accumulated individual voices encourages a “yes and” participation: you can see what is already there and add, skew, flip, turn.

This type of tagging allows for a DI approach to attribution, as well. To attribute a phrase, an object, or a project to a person, we use a “I first heard this from [person]” convention. Because tags are not anonymous, this mechanism highlights the human network that generated the digital index/archive.

The functionality of the index as a searchable catalogue will be preserved through stemming algorithms that group together linguistically similar terms. We can group together singular and plural, single terms and multi-word phrases, similar spellings of words. Using similar methods, we can also find complementing and opposing terms, creating rich ephemeral networks through the collection. This structure allows for layers upon layers of knowledge to appear.

3. play, use, research, play

This data structure, built by the artifacts in the collection, who speak the categories to which they belong, allows for play, play, play. With categories or tag terms in place, we can activate the index/archive to shine spotlights on discrete areas of the DI Universe. This intimate network, with mass quantities of artifacts, can now be explored literally on its own terms. The results will expose fleeting moments, processes and constraints in the artifacts explored as well as in the search and exploration mechanisms.

Some possible playgrounds, positioned in varying degrees on the span of prediction and disruption:

  • A deployment of a predictive algorithm that suggests the next artifact on the collection
  • based on previous artifacts explored;
  • A few hidden dead ends that send the explorer back to square one;
  • A linear explorer to find artifacts from a time and a place;
  • Prompt generators that a conjunction of artifacts as starting points for new projects -
  • added layers expanding the DI universe;
  • Wildcards / skunkworks / mysteries ;
  • An ever revolving ghost curation of the DI Universe artifacts;
  • and...


—original text Noya Kohavi 2019