Dr. Phil Jones’ professional output

The Graphic Thing: Ambiguity, Dysfunction, and Excess in Designed Objects

Article – Published 30th Jun 14

In this essay, I approach what we call “things” as mental constructs that emerge in processes of meaning making rather than as entities that exist independently of human comprehension. This approach is consistent with “embodied realism” (Lakoff and Johnson 1999), in which an external reality is assumed, but is devoid of qualities such as color and texture since these conscious experiences emerge through our embodied processing of this reality. In opposition to things, objects are more schematized and specified—they have prototypical qualities such as shape and color, and structure such as inside/outside, front/back, top/bottom. Objects can therefore be linked more readily to existing knowledge (apperception) and to familiar frames of reference and scenarios. In what ways do we experience “thingness” in graphic design objects, and how does this relate to issues of materiality and transparency in graphic communication? In this essay, I mobilize concepts from cognitive linguistics to explain how our apperception of objects can be subverted through design strategies such as exaggerating the physical qualities of artifacts or contravening conventions. I will use examples of graphic design to illustrate how these strategies can, at some level, disrupt our understanding of graphic objects by evoking experiences of things that demand additional cognitive processing before being fully assimilated into our existing understanding.

Publication details

Publication statusPublished
Refereed1
Publication titleDesign and Culture
Publishers nameBloomsbury
Volume6
Identification number2
Number of pages15
Page range203–218
ISSN1754.7075