Meet average joe and josephine, Our Quantified selves / by Kiersten Nash

Folks, meet Average Joe and Josephine—our quantified selves:

  Adapted from Dreyfus, H.  The Measure of Man: Human Factors in Design , NY: Whitney Library of Design, 1967.

Adapted from Dreyfus, H. The Measure of Man: Human Factors in Design, NY: Whitney Library of Design, 1967.

Equipped with an anthropometry toolkit of calipers, block rulers, protractors, foot-measuring boxes, and scales, Herbert Dreyfuss and his interdisciplinary team of designers, meticulously measured every part of 'the' human body, through every stage of development.* In 1955, the results were charted in The Measure of Man: Human Factors in Design. Heralded as the pioneer of 'Human Engineering' Dreyfuss professed, "If people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient—or just plain happier—the designer has succeeded."

If people are made? Why do we, myself included, insist on 'making' one another?* According to Elaine Scarry, author of The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, making is the transference of perception from the designer to the material form. Consequently, objects, services, environments, and even entire ecologies are the manifestation of our complex and often contradictory desires and imaginations. Thirty years after Dreyfuss quantified human factors in design, Donald Norman developed a framework, known as User-Centered Design (sounds much better than human engineering) to qualify them. Personas, scenarios, and case studies are designed in collaboration with those individuals identified as potential users in order to qualify and quantify need.°

Like the U.S. Green° Building Council's L.E.E.D. program, neither Dreyfus nor Norman account for the agency of adaptation inherent in the design process. In order to embrace the full capacity (and culpabilities) of design, our perspective must shift away from the designer-user dichotomy. Just as each of us is a teacher as well as a student, we are all agents, i.e. designers with various capacities to adapt our surrounding environments.

> insert note on adaptation here


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This is an oversimplification (albeit apt considering the context). Joe and Josephine are actually the spawn of sample populations ranging from 2000-4000 individuals whose "bony protuberances and end points" were meticulously measured and then plotted "on a horizontal x-axis increasing toward the right from the zero point. The frequency of occurrences (were) plotted on the vertical y-axis, increasing toward the top from the zero point." Resulting in a normal distribution curve. Median points were then assembled, giving birth to Average Joe and Josephine.

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Interesting side note: upon graduating from  the Ethical Culture School of New York in 1923, Herbert Dreyfuss designed costumes, sets, and lighting for the Strand and Radio-Keith-Orpheum theaters in New York under the tuteledge of Norman Bel Geddes, legendary Broadway stage designer and industrial engineer. Dreyfuss, Henry. Designing for People. New York: Allworth, 2003.