Opinion as Artifact as Data

What is the value of opinion? Or a disagreement? Design forums overflow with both but range in length, proximity, quality, and legitimacy. The passage of time between responses and publication time gets shorter and shorter as the forums become more digitized.  

If opinions and disagreements were made (or written) by a designer, does that make them design artifacts? Are artifacts data? The idea of opinion as data is driving this phase of my research process. The facts I’m collecting are words from designers — yet, these words are merely opinions buzzing at the edges of design practice.

Case in point: I’m tracing commentary surrounding a 2004 issue of Print magazine (yes, the sex issue), and this post’s image above is simply a collage of my research interface and materials. Once again, I’m reminded of this project’s foundation — opinion as artifact as data. 

The swarm of opinions about this Print issue roll through page after page: the issue was weak, it’s about porn not sex, it went too far, it didn’t go far enough, the boss banned it from the office, why can’t there be more of this, our society isn’t ready for it, this should’ve been done years ago, designers have no place discussing this.

A controversy that happened nearly two decades ago — such as this one — may not seem relevant today. Opinions change over time. What remains the same, however, is the subject under discussion in its time and place. Words exist in the archives. The chatter surrounding this issue of Print, for example, won’t appear in design history books and probably won’t come up in most studio classes. Observation and perspective — and social chatter — are central to one of the most foundational aspects of design practice: the critique.

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