Some thoughts on value and significance in artefacts

Value may be construed as the worth one sees in something. Values are the various worths (qualities, goods and principles) that are important to a given individual or institution. They become the criteria for action and selection. Value or a number of qualities may be regarded as residing in an object or artefact. This value and these qualities may relate directly to general objectives that guide human endeavour and engagement. I have identified five objectives that can also be seen as aspects of that human motivation that exercises choice: the will. The five objectives are: enjoyment, purpose, obligation, expediency and profit. The value we see in artefacts and the value we seek in designing new artefacts will be based on qualities that respond to or are determined by these five objectives.

Significance might be considered a value, but is distinguished from other values in that it is a communicational aspect. An artefact may be significant as a cultural point of reference. It’s value lies in what it tells us or how it fits into a greater narrative of meaning rather than as simply a direct response to one of the five human objectives. Art objects are essentially significant in their value. An artefact that manifests significance is, in a more extreme form, also referred to by designers and design critics as iconic. Significant artefacts may also become symbolic.

When we talk of human desires and needs we are discussing factors that fall within the compass of these objectives. It can be demonstrated that everything that drives the human individual and collective spirit falls within the five objectives.

Just to note here also that the the implication in the paragraphs above that there are motivations other than that of will of course touches on a rather deep philosophical question that will need to be addressed when we consider the three basic motivations in the universe that seem to be chance, law and will. There are wide ranging disputes about whether will extends beyond the human race, or indeed even whether it exists at all. I would argue that, if we concede that chance (chaos, randomness) can exist, then it must follow that will (choice, rebellion) must also be a possibility. Otherwise all activity and flux would have to be determined by inalterable law.

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