Politecnico di Milano - Department of Design (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2020 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 7135-7145
ISBN: 978-84-09-24232-0
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2020.1529
Conference name: 13th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 9-10 November, 2020
Location: Online Conference
The experience of socialising is interwoven with objects. Societies live through the design and production of objects: cultural, material, symbolic, normative, etc.
The objects populate the proxemic territory; it’s the space of relationship between the subjects, influencing and being influenced by the metrics of "closeness" and "distance", which - as the theoretical reflection started by Edward Hall (1966) has amply demonstrated - are far from irrelevant. On the contrary, they constitute a culturally connoted construct.

Perhaps for the first time, the Covid-19 pandemic breakout has confronted us on a global level with a new scenario that has its own values, imaginative and productive levers in social distancing. In the experience of distance, we are faced with a forced distance with implicit negative meanings.
In the territories of distance, objects seem to lose part of their physical and material characteristics, and their role as mediators of experience between subjects. Or rather, in becoming spacers, dividers, protectors, distance markers, they bring into play the codes of division, separation, isolation, protection of the individual from objects, subjects, places or situations. They accentuate the attention on the inherent risk and danger in approaching objects, subjects, places or situations.

As a result, objects become liminal. The ergonomics and proxemics of distance call for a new design focus, inviting us to reflect on the threshold effect that objects can produce, on the semantic values of the objects used "for distance" and "in the distance", on the new behaviors, gestures and rituals of the subjects/users/consumers as the culture of proximity disappears, on the potential new phenomenologies of the processes that characterize the system of objects the design, production, distribution, selling, choice, use and consumption, etc..

Through the analysis of case studies taken from the world of objects, subjects and design processes, the present contribution intends to propose some reflections on how "distance" can become a new field of educational experimentation in design. Starting from a reconnaissance of a series of case studies of objects designed to create distance between user and context, or between users, we want to bring out (the presence or the absence of) some unique and peculiar traits. This activity has been structured in different phases: categories of objects have been defined starting from the identification of different contexts of use (e.g. domestic or working environment, etc.), of the activities to be carried out, and of the users involved; then the uses, behaviors and interactions between users and objects, and between users themselves, have been observed, analysed and codified. Through the collected evidence, common elements typical of objects of proximity and distance have been identified, to be translated into design opportunities, to be amplified or mitigated consciously during the design process. As strictly connected to didactics, this activity of exploration, analysis and identification of requirements and peculiar traits of distancing objects - presented in this article - aims at laying the foundation for the next educational experiences of Product Design students, experimenting new ways in which Design (intended as a research activity, as a product development process and as an educational experience) can influence human behavior.
Proxemics, distance, liminal objects, mediating artefacts.