The final project for Post-Optimal Objects (POO) at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design was to design a placebo object for a real or imagined, physical or psychological phobia that would challenge our expectations and preconceptions and provoke new ways of thinking about designed objects and how we use them. Class participants were asked to explore the complexity of how designed objects can modify our behavior by addressing needs that raise questions rather than just be practical, ergonomic or aesthetically pleasing (this project was shamelessly based on the 'Complicated Pleasures' project at the RCA). These objects were not to solve a problem but rather to enable the needs of the user (as the class participants defined them). The objects were presented with supporting materials to allow the audience to understand the relationship between the object and its user in different social contexts.
“By taking the meanings of others as a fundamental starting point for design, designers must proceed from their understanding of users' understanding, which is understanding of understanding or second-order understanding, and this is a way of knowing wholly different from ordinary (first-order) understanding of things”. (Krippendorff, 1995).
Most conventional products are designed with an idealized user in mind. A placebo is the term applied by medical science to the therapeutic and healing effects of inert medicines (i.e. preparations that are pharmacologically inert but that may have a therapeutic effects based solely on the power of suggestion). The purpose of the project was to explore a way of designing that acknowledges human complexity, contradiction and irrationality and transcends simplistic design characterizations of people as simply ‘users’ and ‘consumers’.
Separation Anxiety Disorder Placebo by Alex Sobolev. This was a Structuralist analysis of the Alfred Hitchcock movie 'Psycho'. The placebo object was a mental girlfriend for Norman Bates (that had killed her own Father who was himself dating Norman's dead Mother, or something like that). We are assured that had this condition existed it would have been a much shorter movie with no deaths.
“De vrees om te zijn niet Duch” (The fear of being non-Dutch) by Andy Sell. Those who experience a sense of dissatisfaction in knowing that they do not come from Dutch origin periodically suffer from Nonneederlandobia. The fear of being non-Dutch addresses a social dilemma of individuals whose work, interests and way of life lies parallel with Dutch culture, yet their lack of Dutch nationality disables them to fully identify as such. A a series of designed objects with the intent of making oneself “feel” more Dutch.
Keno-phobic Sound Generation Device by Rob Knecht. Keno-phobia is an abnormal fear of large, empty spaces. This is a synthesizer and sequencer that analyzes the current environment and generates a musical composition for the individual to enjoy and share.