In this article, Borgmann claims that common tools and household devices have been divided into unseen machinery and the “opaque” surface, which is where contemporary design takes places. He further suggests that this division is unnatural and should be fought against; arguing for “a principled distinction between objects and places of engagement and the rule of technology. ”1 The distinction Borgmann makes between opaque and articulate design is as follows: Opaque design is confined to the texture and color of surfaces.
Articulate design shapes objects and environments that are articulate in the sense that they are crafted to some depth and in the sense that they speak to us in an intelligible and inviting language. 2 However, he acknowledges the limits of advocating articulate design, encouraging designers to choose carefully those objects that are best suited to articulate design. In considering this distinction, the first example that came to mind was cars. Now, in many ways cars could be viewed as opaque by nature.
Unlike bicycles, you cannot literally ‘see’ the mechanisms of a car without pulling the hood up or sliding under the engine. However, during the past decade, and increasingly so in the newest cars, engines and other inner workings have been computerized. This means that, rather than looking at your car yourself to figure out why it’s making that funny noise, your “check engine” light goes on, and you have to take it to a mechanic, who then diagnoses the problem with a computer.
Even specialists (mechanics) are no longer able to use their own hands and intuition to surmise the situation. There is certainly something to be said for having a basic knowledge of how your home, car, and objects work. At the same time, Borgmann tends to lapse into romanticism when discussing the virtues of a traditional books vs. an e-book. The distinction there becomes more about old-fashioned/new-fangled design rather than articulate/opaque.
Christine Cogdell / Products or Bodies? Streamline Design and Eugenics as Applied Biology During the 1920’s and 1930’s, two ideas were gaining prominence in America, eugenics and streamline design. Streamline design was the newest holy grail of industrial designers and architects, while eugenics was widely promoted through both “positive” (working to keep those people considered ‘fit’ breeding) and “negative” (limiting the reproduction of people considered ‘unfit’) eugenics.
3 Cogdell notes that “both industrial designers and eugenicists considered themselves to be primary agents of evolutionary progress. ”4 Similar language was used; for example, human bodies were often referred to as products or “goods” (39). As the industrial revolution continued to move forward, products were seen as in need of reforms, hence the streamline design movement. Industrial designers and eugenicists had a “shared role as the chief agents of evolutionary progress” (53).
Eugenics, which places absolute faith in the scientific process by selectively breeding those human traits it deems desirable and blocking the breeding of human traits it deems undesirable, is often associated with the totalitarian dictatorship of Nazi-era Germany. While there were certainly some designers who used the idea of streamline design to promote racial and ethnic stereotypes, there is no evidence that the use of eugenics language and ideology by designers carried over into the totalitarian political beliefs that eugenics has become correlated with.
Cogdell attributes this use of eugenics by ideologically opposed groups to The malleability of eugenic ideas – to the imprecise and relative definitions of widely used terms such as “fit” and “unfit,” the lack of clear understanding about the roles of “nature” and “culture” (51). These aspects of eugenics permitted its ideas to attract to a wide range of people and groups. The pursuit of ideal products and the pursuit of ideal bodies are linked through the principles of eugenics.