Viridian Principles 1.0

A. Futurist principles

"Eat What You Kill"

It's perfectly acceptable to supersede some time-honored tool or practice. However, you should take pains to fully comprehend the thing you have rendered obsolescent. You are removing some part, however modest, of the infrastructure of civilization. You are destroying the work of previous designers; you should offer them the respect you yourself would hope for, under similar circumstances. This is for your own good. You can't comprehend your own accomplishment until you have fully internalized and understood the accomplishment that you are undoing.

"Avoid the Timeless, Embrace Decay"

Platonic visions of absolute reality, and Christian visions of eternity, are very unhealthy for bipedal mammals in a biosphere. Nothing physical is eternal. It's very bad design to create some device which quickly ceases to function, while its useless components persist around us, ugly and dangerous. Entropy deserves our respect and attention. Entropic processes such as corrosion, rot, rust, degradation, delamination, and disintegration should be closely studied, harnessed for industrial use, and even aestheticized.

"Planned Evanescence"

"Planned Obsolescence" means that a product will be driven off the market, within a known time-frame, by some purported improvement. The Viridian principle of "Planned Evanescence" extends this practice by demanding that the product and all its physical traces should gracefully disintegrate and vanish entirely.

"The Future is History -- Be When You Are"

The future is not a stage set. The past is not a sacred myth. The past and the future are this place at a different time. The future is advancing upon you, and the past retreating, at a remorseless rate of one second per second. You can seek understanding anywhere, but you can only act in the moment. "You Own Modernity." It's easy to get transfixed by romantic ideas of historical inevitability: glamorous marches of progress, or gruesome congenital declines. But your own epoch is your own problem. If you call yourself "post" or "former," or "neo" or "retro," you are begging for someone else's troubles.

"History Accumulates"

The arrow of time moves only in one direction. As long as civilization persists and our records multiply, we have more and more history. The compost of history is thicker for us than it was for our predecessors -- and thinner than it will be for our descendants. We need better ways to manage our increasing wealth of history.

B. Moral Principles

"Look at the Underside First"

Legions of people are paid large sums to promote the positive aspects of commercially available products. Very few people earn their daily bread by pointing out malfunctions, bugs, screw-ups, design failures, side- effects and the whole sad galaxy of trade-offs and failings that are inherent in any technological artifact. To counteract this gross social imbalance, a wise designer and a wise critic will make it a matter of principle to look at the underside first.

"Design For Evil"

Any innocent product which becomes suddenly genocidal in the hands of a tyrant has been designed by a dangerous naif. Every design process is incomplete unless it takes into careful consideration what could be done with the product by a dictatorial megalomaniac in command of a national economy, a secret police, and a large army.

"Design for the Old"

The median age is advancing steadily around the world. The 21st century will have a historically unprecedented demographic structure. Short of catastrophe and mass slaughter, we will never see the 20th century's youthful demographics again. The senior members of society have their own ergonomics and anthropometrics. If you don't design for them, you're designing for an ever-shrinking fraction of the world.

"Superstition Isn't Inspiration"

Creative inspiration isn't a lab product, but it doesn't come from your fairy godmother, either. There's no effective substitute for experimental verification and reproducible results. A tarot deck can trigger strong feelings of creative insight, but it doesn't convey higher wisdom. Like horoscopes and ouija boards, it uses suggestion to allow you to tell yourself a story that you already know. Don't mistake mystic wish-fulfillment and the promptings of your unconscious for objective evidence. It's a breach of taste to imagine that the vagaries of your own imagination are more interesting than the world.

C. Political Principles

"Viridian Inactivism"

Activism is an attention hog, and very time and energy intensive. A better approach is to find the things you are doing that intensify the problem, and just cease doing them. Put in less overtime. Sleep late. Have a nap after lunch. Burn less midnight oil. Park your car, turn off all the lights in your apartment, and go outside in the sunshine and read a book. Spend an hour on your mascara if you feel like it. Don't allow yourself to be spooked into Stakhanovite overdrive; seek command of your own life, and enjoy being yourself.

"Do Less With Less"

We're altering the climate by burning too much fossil fuel. We should struggle valiantly to find alternative sources of energy, but it's rather more gratifying to simply become less frenetic. What exactly are we doing at the moment that is worth ruining the climate for? Relax.

"There's No One So Green As the Dead"

Zealous moralistic arguments about who is more-Green-than- thou are very counterproductive. We're all adding to the global CO2 load as long as we continue to breathe. Dead people are the ultimate Greens (trumped only by people who never existed in the first place). If you feel helpless with guilt because of your bad environmental habits, pause and think of the very brief time in which you employ the earth's resources, and the long, long eons in which you'll be just raw material again.

D. Principles of the Avant-technogarde

"The Biological Isn't Logical"

Design tends to follow the leading technical products of its period; in an age of aviation, even pencil-sharpeners are streamlined. Given this longstanding trend, the coming bio-genetic technical revolution should produce a biomorphic epoch in 21st century design. But the living world was not designed by a teleological, rationalist, reductionist process. The living world grew irrationally through non-systematic, genetic exploration of niche possibilities, pruned back by natural selection and occasional massive disasters. So if you're building distributed networks, learn from crabgrass.

"Augment Reality: Aestheticize All Sensors"

From the age of desktop calculation, through the age of networking and bandwidth, computation/communication will progress toward omnipresent, on-chip sensors, the "intelligent environment" or "augmented reality." While calculation is mathematical, and bandwidth is highly technical, sensors must interact with the human sensorium, and are therefore a strong aesthetic challenge. Sensors, instrumentation, and mediated monitoring systems of all kinds are the next aesthetic frontier.

"Make the Invisible Visible"

Our primary advantage over previous generations of artists and graphic designers is that we can see much better than they could. We can manipulate, store, create and analyze graphic imagery with historically unprecedented ease and power. This trend should be recognized, advanced, and artistically exploited. Advances in instrumentation can be used to change the zeitgeist. If carbon dioxide were blood-red, our skies would look ominous indeed.

"Less Mass, More Data"

Physical resources should be replaced with information when possible. If you always know where something is, you don't have to chain it up. If it can see stress coming and duck, it doesn't need to be sturdy. If it pops up and vanishes repeatedly on signal, it doesn't have to take abuse.

"Tangible Cyberspace"

The obverse of "Less Mass, More Data" is "Tangible Cyberspace," introducing computer-generated artifacts and processes into the basic texture of the physical world. This transcends mere CAD-CAM, in that it seeks for a profound new interrelationship of the computational and the environmental. We seek to make the screen permeable, and to turn "computers" into worldly, sensual entities.

"Seek the Biomorphic and the Transorganic"

"Nature" is over. There's not a liter of seawater anywhere without its share of PCB and DDT, and an altered climate will reshuffle the ecological deck for every creature that breathes. A 21st century avant-garde must deal with those consequences and thrive in that world. We have already painted flowers. We want to know what a flower means when a flower has onboard processing, amped- up genetics, and its own agenda. Thus a central Viridian aesthetic dictum: "A Rose is No Longer a Rose."

"Datamine Nature"

"Seeking Truth From Nature" was a rhetorical and ideological support of the Pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau. It worked well twice and can work again. Since our understanding of natural processes has advanced so hugely, there is a wealth of aesthetic novelty to be found in previously invisible aspects of nature, such as cellular metabolism, noninvasive medical imaging, hybridomas and chimeras, artificial life entities, and chemosynthetic life forms.

"Grow Complexity"

It is now absurdly simple to create graphic patterns of any level of busy-ness and complexity. Without human esthetic intervention, this art is puerile and ugly. A Viridian aesthetic looks for patterns that are both tasteful and previously impossible.

E. Research Principles

"Walk Through the Walls of Knowledge Guilds"

The boundaries that separate art, science, medicine, literature, computation, engineering, and design and craft generally are not divinely ordained. The most galling of these boundaries are socially generated entities meant to protect the power-interests of knowledge guilds. This is not to say that that all research techniques are identical, or that their results are all equally valid under all circumstances: quantum physics isn't opera. But there exists a sensibility that can serenely ignore intellectual turf war, and comprehend both physics and opera. You won't be able to swing a grant or sing an aria by knocking politely at the stage door. They won't seat you at the head of the table and slaughter the fatted calf. But you can take photographs, plant listening devices and leave. If you choose, you can step outside the boundaries history makes for you. You can walk through walls.
ADDENDUM: We are looking for more Viridian principles, and improvements in the above formulations. We are also searching for designed objects in today's environment that seem to be exemplars of some or all of these Viridian principles, so that we can trumpet them, and lavish praise upon them. We are also looking hard for evil counter- exemplars that violate our principles, so that we can lash them with critical scorn. Please send your candidates to