Ways of Seeing

Wide-scale collaborative systems of digital culture have acted specifically on the ways designers see. How designers see has been long discussed as a point of distinction in determining what designers do and what their particular skill set is. For example Flusser (2013), building on a conception of seeing through the eyes of the soul, splits the act of seeing in ‘two eyes’ (Flusser, 2013 p. 39). The first eye looks at things that have been – i.e. things; and the second eye is concerned with things that may be (i.e. the future) and the things that may exist. He goes on to say that the first eye has been augmented by apparatus of perception such as the telescope and microscope, and proposes that this has fundamentally changed our sense of place in the world and our sense of the scope of things in general. Regarding the second eye – which he regards to be of specific relevance to design – he discusses how looking forward involves inventing the world object by object, possibility by possibility, all based on the knowledge you currently have. This, for him, is the creative eye – one that in earlier times would belong only to God – and it is this eye that is core to the practice of bringing things into being through the process of design. Bringing us more into the contemporary world, he discusses this second eye as undergoing the same radical augmentation at the hands of computer technology as the first underwent due to the telescope and the microscope.

“This could be the beginning of a technology of the soul’s second eye. All eternal forms, all immutable Ideas, can be formulated as equations, and these equations can be translated from the numerical code into computer codes and fed into computers. The computer for its part can display these algorithms as lines, areas and (a bit later on) volumes on the screen and in holograms, out of which it can create ‘numerically generated’ artificial images.” (Flusser, 2013 p. 41)

This sentiment is remarkably prescient when viewed more than 30 years later. Computers have indeed allowed us to model and then remake the world in remarkable ways, and in the case of designers, they have, in some areas, completely remade the vision available from our so-called second eye. It is important to consider that this idea is based on a visual metaphor, and Flusser does not consider the network effects that have since been incorporated into any contemporary experience of computing, and how these have augmented our ability as designers to see. Flusser considers the second eye as describing the dominant mode of vision of the designer, and goes on to say ‘The soul’s second eye continues to look into eternity, but this is now an eternity that it can manipulate. This is the designer’s way of seeing…’ (Flusser, 2013 p. 42).

My research explicitly seeks to expand this idea, and interrogate what effects collaborative vision may have had on the way designers see and act, both on a macro and micro scale. Flusser is clearly struggling to develop a sophisticated lexicon for the visual properties of computing – ‘lines, areas and (a bit later on) volumes on the screen and in holograms’ (Flusser, 2013 p. 41), even though his insight was clear in terms of the abilities computers would acquire in terms of display. My research attempts to describe other factors of digital culture act on the designer’s ability to see, and how these might be built upon from the perspective of a designer’s concern with ideas and things.


Flusser, V. (2013) Shape of Things: A Philosophy of Design. Reaktion Books. Available at: http://books.google.com/books?id=d26wIxe-jsAC&pgis=1