When Digital Becomes Real: The New Aesthetic

Digital design is leaving screens and seeping into the physical realm


Photorealist painter Chuck Close’s early airbrush techniques inspired the development of the inkjet printer, and now it seems that digital technology is returning the favor. From rug designs that incorporate images from google maps to furniture crafted to look like distorted JPEGs, a new vision of the physical is emerging from the digital. Call it a natural evolution from Close’s pixel-style paintings – the product of a disability as much as his artistic vision – or label it seepage from our virtual lives into the physical world.

Or, like a SXSW panel dubbed it a little over a year ago, you could call it the New Aesthetic.  These are actual pieces of furniture designed by Ferruccio Laviani to look like faulty downloads or distorted images from an overplayed VHS tape:

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 2.51.05 PM

Exactly what defines the New Aesthetic is difficult to pin down. What’s clear, however, is that our products, our artworks, even the spaces in which we live are changing as a result of our constant interaction (some might say dependency) with an ever-evolving digital meta-world.

Witness geometric jewelry made by mapping your foursquare check-ins:

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Or Rihanna performing her song “Diamonds” on Saturday Night Live in front of a bluescreen showing what looked like a screensaver… And in case that doesn’t convince you, check the backlash.

Why I’m Curious

Digital culture’s influence on physical design means that the anything-goes ethos of the Internet – if we can imagine it, we can build it; if we can build it, people will use it – is osmosing into the real world. What will it mean when “digital” no longer means 2D (or 3D contrivances) but actual physical creations that couldn’t exist without the inspiration of digital?

What does it mean for the relationship between traditional and digital advertising and media, for social campaigns and brand initiatives? We already consider our laptops, mobile devices and set-top boxes to be an integral part of our daily existence.

Are we on the cusp of a new design movement that integrates our digital lives into our understanding of real-world physical space? Is digital technology terraforming our physical world?

Answer: YES.


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