Phenomenology, Subjectivity, and Knowing Thyself

So we were talking about the idea of intersubjectivity being that people form groups/communities by sharing prejudices, horizons, lifeworlds (or similar pieces of a particular facet of their lifeworld) and therefore respond in similar ways to stimuli. We made an important note to the effect that in this case there really is no objectivity. Then we brought up methods, namely anthropology and ethnography, for practicing phenomonology/intersubjectivity(I guess for this purpose these two things are essentially interchangeable, is it okay to assume that? I’m not sure.) and that subjectivity is not just a big influence but for all intensive purposes inseparable from the method. That is, one cannot really step outside themselves to objectively judge or rationalize behaviors because all of their thoughts, feelings, ideas, their whole being is comprised of past experiences, their horizons and their lifeworld which they use as a basis to form relationships between things which creates more beliefs, ideas etc. So with all this subjectivity flying around, the question was posed, “How do we know if/when we get it right?” The answer being, of course, we don’t.

It was right about at this point in class when the metaphoric lightbulb dinged on in my head and I thought, “Hey, this kind of gets into what Erik is always talking about, that an important component to a great designer is that he or she knows him/herself. Because as designers we are always designing something for someone, it is quite obvious we would benefit more by knowing as much as possible about the “someones” we’re designing for and the stuff we’re using for the “somethings” we’re making. But the other important variable in that equation is the “we” or “I” as (a) designer(s). Since we’re going with variables and the math theme,

if a+b+c=d, where



c=me/the designer

and d=”somethings” products/designs

In math the goal is always to know as much about the variables of the equation in order to get to a solution. If all are unknown, you’re kind of screwed because there is no starting point. If a couple are known, then you play around with the information you have and can sometimes reach a solution indirectly. If all are defined clearly, then the equation is pretty straightforward.

So it makes sense that working toward designing great things means working at figuring out who I am, what I believe, etc. just as much as figuring out what makes my users tick and how to exploit media’s strengths to achieve my goal.

1 Comment

  1. Tyler Pace

    Math would seem like a rather structuralist approach to your phenomenological inquiry! 🙂


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