Designing Design is an outstanding book written by Kenya Hara that I finally managed to finished over Chinese New Year. The book provides deep insights into the subtitles of Japanese design and thought. My favorite part was Chapter 7 where Hara introduces a concept he calls “Exformation.” Even the word “exformation” was new to me. Wikipedia defines exformation as, “Everything we do not actually say but have in our heads when, or before, we say anything at all.” They have a very fun example from Victory Hugo.
Hara sees things slightly different – I would say more profound. Exformation, he says, is the form as well as the function of information, not for making things known, but for making things unknown. “In” is to “ex” as “inform” is to “exform”.
Why making something unknown? Hara argues:
What constantly invigorates the human mind is the unknown; we aren’t animated by what we already know, but we’re eager to make the world known.
Instead of communicating by making known, if we make understood how little we know, Hara believes, we will begin asking idiosyncratic questions. These questions will (naturally) lead to unique answers.
I can clearly see the importance of exformation. Knowledge alone, no longer seems to activate the senses the way it did in my University days. Our supply of information has exceeded critical mass. Most people I know are overloaded. By making something unknown, we can reawaken that feeling of discovery all over again.
Hara is a teacher at Musashino Art University in Tokyo. He asked his students to make something known, unknown. This first exformation project was about the Shimanto River. Here are some pictures:
His students created composites of asphalt roads on the water’s surface:
Familiar objects function as a measuring stick to infer the size or shape of something new or unknown to us. Layered roads let us experience the river with a reality far exceeding our expectation. We have never seen a river in quite this way. The incompatibility of the human-made objects (roads) juxtaposed with nature (the river) grabs our attention and etches the memory of the river’s shape into our brains.
I find this all very inspiring and fundamental to my work so I wanted to share it with you all today. Let’s go find new ways to make the world unknown!