Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2013

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Design (MDes)




Cameron Tokenwise


Abstract: Current critiques of the insufficiency of conventional design practices in tackling massive problems with complex political, ethical and material dimensions often overlook a key assumption underlying the entirety of both design practice and theory: that design is effectively a discipline that deals with relations in both the human and nonhuman realms, but that the lenses that designers use are one-way, entrenched firmly in a human-centric (‘correlationist’) foundation. With few exceptions, much of the research coming out of design tends to accept the strongly correlationist traditions prevalent in both the humanities and science without question, and thus we argue that the capacity of design as a discipline to deal with complex systemic problems, with issues of sustainability, instability, and even survival, is severely hampered without a complete account of how the nonhuman world functions.

This paper lays out our argument for the need for a non-correlationist description of design praxis and poiesis, that does not distinguish between the human/nonhuman binary, but treats all things on an equal, or ‘flat’, ontological footing. For this, we turn to the recent speculative realist turn which has sought to challenge correlationism within the humanities, in particular the work of the object-oriented ontological (OOO) philosopher Graham Harman. In Harman, we find a fascinating account of the nature and relations of things in a flat ontology. We propose that an OOO based account of design has interesting implications for reframing current interaction and systems design praxis in two ways. Firstly, it reveals how the design process is already constituted as a form of ontological inquiry concerned with understanding thingly essences and manifestations. Secondly, it gives a distinct account of both thing-thing and thing-in-itself relations that we feel opens up new horizons in a general theory of aesthetics, affect, and interaction in design. We will, for the purposes of initiating this new mode of inquiry, work with the Harmanian concepts of the quadruple object and allure to suggest a redefinition of the concept of affordances in interaction design, and suggest the concept of unities to show how object totalities may be mapped without a reduction to mere relations.