Industrial Age: The Industrial Revolution & Manifestos — intro lecture 3 from History of Interaction Design

Photo by Marília Castelli on Unsplash

The Machine Revolutionizes the World and our field begins to find sparks

The industrial revolution starts around 1760 and lasts nearly 100 years. By the 1800’s steam engines and steel come into play, resulting in the railroad which opens up travel and commerce possibilities beyond what people had seen before. Starting in England, but spreading around the world, people start to invent machines to help labor expand the amount they can produce. It starts in textiles, but quickly spreads across industries. Manufacturing begins churning out large amounts of products in shorter and shorter production cycles.

Mass production and the explosion of invention affects every industry including art and communication. During this time the telegraph is invented, making near instant communication across long distances possible. Photography is invented, allowing people to capture events, people, and places in time almost instantly. In printing, during this era, we see major type designers begin creating typefaces that we are still using today, like Caslon (by William Caslon), Baskerville (by John Baskerville), Bodoni (by Giambattista Bodoni) — considered the first MODERN typeface. The first sans serif type appears in a book and slab serifs are invented for advertising. Graphic arts — designers crafting the look of books, posters, signs and other printed materials becomes a separate profession from printing — which previously had been done by the printers. Advertising, to promote and sell all these new products begins to show up in various forms.

Products become machine made and replicable in quantity.

In 1821 we find Charles Babbage inventing the Difference Engine. Considered the first computer (even though it was never built), Babbage believed that a machine could help extend and expand a person’s ability to think and calculate beyond what they could do on their own.

When Ada Lovelace met him, they clicked and began a long friendship. She ended up writing a series of programs for his machine (even though it hadn’t been built), making her the first computer programmer. She wrote calculations that would enable the machine to extrapolate and deliver results that might be impossible for a person to do on their own. A replica of the Difference Engine (built in contemporary times from Babbage’s plans can be found in the Computer History Museum down in Mountain View). Read about and watch the video on Ada Lovelace.

Despite the machine not being built, the work of Lovelace and Babbage are important to the history of computing and Interaction Design for a couple of reasons. They lay the ground work for future development of machines that can help the human mind think and calculate and it’s an important point in history for women even though it will be another hundred years before the next female programmer is recognized.

The 20th century could be described as the first machine age. These machines of the early 20th century (as opposed to the Victorian age) were “light, subtle, clear and could be handled by thinking men in their own homes in the electric suburbs.” The Victorian age was characterized by cast iron machinery and trains, by architecture overloaded with excessive ornament and by graphics containing large amounts of decoration. In all it was a darker, heavier time. The turn of the century saw a merging of art and technology that came together in a fresh and vital way. The world was at peace and the great innovations of the century were being born. Electricity was replacing gas lighting and the first radio signal from England to America was sent. The Wright brothers made their first flight and Henry Ford was producing millions of model-T’s. This was the era of new thought and enlightenment. Einstein began developing his theories of relativity, Henri Bergson gave lectures on the concepts of evolution and Freud was formulating his theories of psychoanalysis.

As the world became used to cheaper products coming from these new machines, artists were also taking up the cause both for and against this new age. The arts and crafts movement was a direct reaction against the age of the machine and the sterile quality of machine made items. At the same time, artists like F.T. Marinetti & the Futurists — are espousing the principles of speed and sleekness that come from the machine as expressed in their Futurist Manifesto of 1909. Machines and machine made items, like guns, are front and center as the world enters WW1.

All of these factors had a profound effect on the movements in the visual arts and in architecture. This was a time of experimentation and daring that expanded the limits of all the arts. The new century brought with it a spirit of revolution along with the anticipation of social change in which the arts were to be the vanguard.

The momentum of ideas was brought to a halt by the explosion of World War 1. Declared on August 1, 1914, this war had an impact unknown before this time. Ultimately the war would claim over 10 million lives and over 20 million casualties.

It is during this rise of the machine that the industrial engineer role emerges. Practitioners, like Frederick Winslow Tayler publish Principles of Scientific Management, which looks at ways to improve industrial efficiency and Lillian and Frank Gilbreth spend time before and during the war observing soldiers and then creating efficient workflows and teaching these soldiers to assemble and disassemble their guns and equipment in the dark. Over the years we see many improvements in efficiencies and processes due to the government and military needs before we see them rolled out into the civilian population.

But back to Marinetti and the manifesto. Over the years, many groups of artists (as well as individuals), futurists, and activists have released manifestos demanding a different way of doing things be it in art, in government, in culture.

This lecture was followed by having my students read a whole bunch of historical Manifestos and then write one of their own about themselves and their role in the field of Interaction Design:
Manifesto Mania—by Ellen & Julia Lupton
Manifestos: A Manifesto — The Atlantic
Futurism Manifesto (1908)
De Stijl Manifesto (1918)
Programme of the First Working Group of Constructivists (1923)
“Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age,” Future Insight, Aug. (1994)
First Things First Manifesto (2000)
iOT Design Manifesto

They also had to watch these videos and read about Ada Lovelace and Lillian Gilbreth — two important women in our early legacy.
Ada Lovelace — Great Minds (YouTube)
Lillian Gilbreth—First Lady of Engineering (YouTube)

Note: All these lectures were delivered via video with related slide decks of images. Following the intro, students had a series of readings and videos to watch related to the topics covered in the lecture or the overall time frame. They were then given a set of prompts to stimulate their thinking and writings which ended up in a class blog.

In the Beginning
Read intro lecture 2—In the Beginning Part 2
Read intro lecture 1—In the Beginning Part 1

Setting the Stage
See the visual syllabus and how I approached putting this class together