Early on in his talk “A Metaphysical History of Western Philosophy and Design,” Arturo Perez warned that it would include some cerebral stuff. “It’s okay if you zone out and let the abstraction take you somewhere.”
He was not kidding. For the next hour or so, the founder and CEO of Kluge took members of the LAUX Meetup, assembled in the front area of the Downtown co-working establishment Blankspaces, on a dizzying tour through the history of human philosophy from Plato to Derrida.
True to his profession, he color-coded three distinct eras of thought: Realism (blue), idealism (purple), and post-idealism (red). Although he revealed a personal affinity for the Blue Era of Plato, being and becoming, and a common trust that people could perceive their reality correctly through the senses, it was his exploration of the Red era and Derrida (“As soon as there is language, generality has entered the scene”) that seemed to get him most fired up.
It was during the Red portion of his talk, covering an era roughly dating from the early 1900s onward, that Perez began to address and challenge the design field directly. Stating that “the religion now is science,” he compared and contrasted the Scientific Method with the Design Method. The idea of design as a distinct discipline, he said, arose with the industrial revolution, and designers hoisted the weighty legacy of the philosophers.
As he slowly built on his earlier points, Perez shifted to exploration and provocation, emphasizing the responsibility that designers bear not just for their users’ experience, but for their users’ souls – and the designers’ own. He called out a few design thinkers, including Herbert Simon, Simon Glynn, and Glenn Parsons, who have pointed in new, more philosophical directions designers might consider. And he elucidated how Kluge’s event series Evenings at the Loft carried on the legacy of philosophical salons.
As his presentation gradually unfolded, Perez focused not on strategies or tools, but on some of the biggest questions in the world. “If you say you’re comfortable with the unknown,” he said, “you have to own that.