Conceptual Design, Nanotechnology, and a Rhetoric of Imminence

By Isabel Pedersen.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Nanotechnology is a popular media phenomenon. Despite the fact that many nanotech inventions have not emerged and might not in the near future, they are designed, visually-depicted, and debated, in popular media as if they were just around the corner. One interesting example is the concept of a space elevator, which has been made theoretically possible recently by the notion of carbon nanotubes. Rather than launch vessels into outer space using rocket propulsion, a space elevator would let us hoist vessels using a tether. The visual rhetoric surrounding this nascent idea expressed through sometimes quite fantastical design ideas is particularly illuminating. It signals widespread societal ambition and hope, supported heavily by a rhetoric of imminence suggesting that the space elevator will exist. This paper uses theories of visual rhetoric to analyze nanotech designs shown in everyday media conceived by both experts and everyday people. It will question, what do we learn about society through the early visual design of future inventions? By identifying aspects of this motive, what do we learn about the nanotech inventions themselves? Last, what facets of these conceptual designs structure a rhetoric of imminence? This paper will draw on the theory of Victor Margolin, Rudolf Arnheim, Gunther Kress, Kenneth Burke as well as others to support the theoretical framework.

Keywords: Conceptual Design, Visual Rhetoric, Design Metaphor, Social Semiotics, Nanotechnology

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.1-12. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.550MB).

Dr. Isabel Pedersen

Assistant Professor, Department of Professional Communication, Faculty of Communication and Design, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Isabel Pedersen (B.A. M.A. Ph.D.), is an Assistant Professor of Professional Communication in the Faculty of Communication and Design at Ryerson University. Her research deals with reality-augmenting media including wearable and mobile interfaces in terms of rhetoric, semiotics, metaphor, and emerging design concepts. She is currently planning a book dealing with Augmented Reality (AR) and mobile computer devices.


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