Post 653 -by Gautam Shah
Rhetoric is the ‘art of speaking or writing effectively’. (Webster’s Definition) Aristotle describes it as ‘the ability or means of persuasion’. He describes three forms of rhetoric: Ethos (distinctive spirit of a people or an era), Logos (the logic and supportive evidence behind an argument or a reasoned discourse), and Pathos (represents an appeal to the emotions of the audience, and elicits feelings that already resides in them). Rhetoric is used in literary and verbal expressions, by using things that are familiar, but less acknowledged in common usage. In literary and verbal expressions rhetoric is exploited by construction (of the language form) and reinforced through the means of delivery such as rendering diction and graphics.
Literary and verbal expressions generate instant and consistent impression over their audience or followers. Designed objects like arts, crafts, architecture, graphics, products, etc. however, do not carry an immediate or intense message of persuasion. A design has a persistent delivery, but very variable in content. It gets actualized in many different scenarios.
Emotions through rhetoric ‘have specific causes and effects’ (Aristotle -book 2.1.2–3). Such dialogues however, do not exist between designers and connoisseurs. ‘Aristotle posits that along with the pathos (an appeal to the emotions of the audience), a speaker must also deploy good ethos (distinctive spirit of a people or an era) in order to establish credibility’. Philo distinguishes between two different types of logos 1 Prophorikos (the uttered word) and 2 Endiathetos (the word remaining within). In case of design-objects, the later one is relevant, as the rhetoric of design is always latent or potential.
Rhetoric is means of expression or conveyance. In Literature and utterances it gets reinforced through linkages or examples, and altered through feedback from the audience. Such immediate response is not possible for Art, craft or architecture, and if any, it arrives as feed-forward in the make up (training and experience) of the creator. The design feed-forward chiefly relies on the visual rhetoric like books, site visits, media images, etc. But, it is impossible to perceive here ‘one cause to one effect pattern’. Other sensorial inputs like touch, smell, taste, aural, etc., historically had alogical legitimacy. Once a design actualizes, the feedbacks may arrive as historical realizations, but in different time and context. So designs can ‘have traceable past, but uncertain future’.
It is often claimed that visual literacy is of recent origin, when we ignore the mediums of expression and conveyance, which have been with us since primitive age. Wall murals’ images were visual rhetoric, well ‘read’ and capable of arousing Aristotelian pathos (an appeal to the emotions of the audience). Some examples of visual means are charts, graphs, diagrams, photographs, movies, printed media, etc. but though these arouse the pathos but not always as instant response.
The study of visual rhetoric is different from that of visual or graphic design, in that it emphasizes images as sensory expressions of cultural meaning, as opposed to purely aesthetic consideration. (Kress, Gunther, and Theo van Leeuwen. Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. New York: Routledge, 1996.).
The Design objects like architecture poses a statement only after their making, or on being used as an ‘artifact’. Vitruvius stated that a work of architecture is a matter of ‘invention, arrangement, memory, delivery, and style’, and the process was perceived to be similar, to the Aristotelian way of putting together a speech. Design creation is very circumstantial, meant for a client, functions, site, regulatory framework, financial restraints, etc. It, however, needs to be tempered by arrangement, assimilation or composition of many different elements and considerations. These, together offer a holistic character, but realizable only after the creation. Rhetoric in design, if any, is in the design feed-forward, and after its avatar through the feedback. The feed back spreads over a very long period, sometimes after the original entity is destroyed. The Aristotelian depiction of Rhetoric as ‘the ability or means of persuasion’, for designed objects like architecture remains vague or conjectural.
The ability or means of persuasion were reasonable for artefacts conceived and made by the same person. But modern designers generate designs through surrogates or representations, and transmitted to makers or assemblers as schema or specifications. The communication through a schema is an order for execution, but certainly not for persuasion or concurrence. The instructions, if, any are non-personal and distanced in time. Some designs are too involved with the clients or stake-holders, but many others are panoptic. Designers are self-absorbed to care for persuasion or confirmation of anyone. Rhetoric exists, but as statement of non-confirmation.
Design disciplines are categorized in four major domains: Graphic Design (Real and abstract -symbols communication), Products Design (objects, artefacts, craft-items), Services Design (software, interaction, stake holders) and Empathetic Design (social concerns).
McKeon, Buchanan state the understanding of design, as of symbols and images1, physical artifacts2, actions and activities3, and environments or systems4.
Build-Designs are perceived at Two levels. First level consists of assembly of elements like signs, patterns, or images, and the organizational discipline. At another level, there is holistic form that is conceived without any elemental identities.
There are few characteristics common to both the congregated and totalitarian forms. Design, in part or as a whole is an allusion to something separated in time and space, and formed through analogy (comparison) or antithesis (contrast). Antiphrasis is an impressionistic expression to convey non-conventional meaning used for sarcasm. Build-forms or the constituents are given magniloquence by way of exaggerated scale, contrasts, precarious shape and intensive vibrancy.
There are few features that rhetorize composite forms due to multiplicity of constituents elements. The sub-elements occur as microcosm, recurrence, as directional move, evolution-devolution and support-contrast. These rhetoric elements manifest in scaling, sequencing or within a perceptible domain of time or spatial reference.
Design objects like architecture, fashion, products, are created for stake-holders and for personal gratification. Objects for personal gratification often result from intense desire to go out of the box as a non-conformal creative activity. This attitude, though very radical, resulting into unusual approaches and solutions, is tied to reality. All worldly creations are governed by factors like gravity, terrain and environment. Arguments of persuasion, justification or acceptance.
Out of the Box thinking: It is believed, the term for unconventional perspective in thinking, has come from British mathematician Henry Ernest Dudeney. In this, nine dots are to be interconnected by using four lines drawn without the pencil leaving the paper. The puzzle required one to go beyond the dot array boundaries that is move out of the box.
This is the 16 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN