Designs and gifts

In honor of Hanukkah and Christmas, two great gift-giving holidays, this post is about gifts.

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Agreement does not (only) mean correspondence of belief. More than that, it means compatibility of belief. It means the possibility of relationship in the medium of understanding, activity and purpose. A truly agreeable gift signals agreement in this expansive sense.

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From Clifford Geertz’s “From the Native’s Point of View”:

…Accounts of other peoples’ subjectivities can be built up without recourse to pretensions to more-than-normal capacities for ego effacement and fellow feeling. Normal capacities in these respects are, of course, essential, as is their cultivation, if we expect people to tolerate our intrusions into their lives at all and accept us as persons worth talking to. I am certainly not arguing for insensitivity here, and hope I have not demonstrated it. But whatever accurate or half-accurate sense one gets of what one’s informants are, as the phrase goes, really like does not come from the experience of that acceptance as such, which is part of one’s own biography, not of theirs. It comes from the ability to construe their modes of expression, what I would call their symbol systems, which such an acceptance allows one to work toward developing. Understanding the form and pressure of, to use the dangerous word one more time, natives’ inner lives is more like grasping a proverb, catching an allusion, seeing a joke — or, as I have suggested, reading a poem — than it is like achieving communion.

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“Understanding the form and pressure of, to use the dangerous word one more time, natives’ inner lives is more like grasping a proverb, catching an allusion, seeing a joke — or, as I have suggested, reading a poem…” or knowing how to design for them.

A design that makes sense, which is easy to interact with and which is a valuable and welcome addition to a person’s life is proof that this person is understood, that the designer cared enough to develop an understanding and to apply that understanding to that person’s benefit.

A good design shares the essential qualities of a good gift.

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A post from an old blog:

When one person gives another person a perfect gift, the gift is valuable in three ways:

  1. The gift itself is intrinsically valuable to the one receiving it.
  2. The fact that the giver knows what the receiver will love demonstrates that the giver cares enough to reflect on what the receiver will value and this effort has yielded real insights. The perfect gift is evidence that the giver cares and understands.
  3. The gift becomes symbolic of the receiver’s own relationship to the world — an example what they define as good. The perfect gift becomes a concrete symbol of the receiver’s ideals, which the receiver and others can see and understand, and contributes to the receiver’s own self-understanding and social identity.

Great design experiences are similar to gifts. When a design is successful the person experiencing the dedign gets something valuable, sees tangible proof the provider of the design understands and values them, and receives social affirmation.

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