Lars Müller Publishers, 2009
17 x 24 cm, 304 pages, English
Hardcover, with a large amount of images
Available at bookstores worldwide
Knowledge is power. If one possesses a collection of the ‘universal knowledge’ of the world, one has ultimate power. Establishing comprehensive, global collections of knowledge already fascinated mankind thousands of years ago. Today, modern communication and information technologies offer quick and prompt collecting, high memory capacities and wide-ranging access. In addition, globalization and the Internet advance a mentality which moves away from the local and regional towards the international and universal. Collections of knowledge, such as archives, encyclopaedias, databases and libraries, also follow this trend. They are engaged in a race against time in both the technological and creative area.
Their clearly formulated aim is to establish for us a complete and up-to-date collection of ‘universal knowledge’.
Who is collecting the world’s knowledge?
How are knowledge archives structured and designed?
Who determines the access to this knowledge?
What knowledge entails power?
These questions formed the starting point of the research, which resulted in a report exploring the meaning of ‘universal knowledge’ as well as the process of collecting, structuring, designing, and publishing it. Designers and researchers from different fields have set standards for the classification and design of complex data collections and thus exerted an enormous influence on how knowledge is communicated.
Along with these aspects, the report also explores the possibilities of ‘universal design’ and presents new approaches to visualize complex information.
The systematic and professional collection of knowledge has always been influenced by economic and political interests and presented as a social and society-changing act. The report critically elucidates these aspects as well as the forms of manipulation and censorship which knowledge storages have never been able to completely evade.
Gerlinde Schuller investigated the subject in interviews with Richard Saul Wurman (US), John Maeda (US),
Nigel Holmes (US), Wim Crouwel (NL), Paul Kahn (F),
Jean-Noël Jeanneney (F), Rop Gonggrijp (NL),
Marion Winkenbach (D), Hannah Hurtzig (D) and
Martin Alberts (NL).
Do you believe that hackers have universal access to information because they can hack themselves through political and technological borders? 'Not necessarily...But I do believe that, because so much of our culture and our world is now technical, hackers are often the only people truly understanding what’s going on. Hackers are the only ones who haven’t signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding technology. They’re not the only ones in the know but they are the only ones who are going to tell you because everybody else has interests that conflict with telling the truth.' Interview with Rop Gongrijp, hacker and activist
'Systematic design, understood as systematic thinking and filtering of information by designers, stands, in content-related terms as well, in the tradition of simpli- city as the expression of the intellect and thus a notion of design that grasps simplicity not as a formal trend but as a criterion relevant to the content.' Markus Frenzl, writer and design critic in his essay 'The surge of simplicity in a complex world'
‘Universal knowledge as a linguistic construct, concept and myth proves to be foremost a liminal one, a concept that points to the borders and constraints of its very existence.' Willem van Weelden, researcher and publicist in his essay 'Universal Manipulation'
‘I would like to think that pictures help people. Whether you ever could have a true universal pictorial language, I don’t think so. And I don’t mind that.' Interview with Nigel Holmes, information designer
'Things that we can understand, I don’t think that there is a limit of what we can take in. If it informs me I don’t go after it unless I am interested in it. If I am interested in it and it informs me it becomes knowledge and understanding. Understanding, for me, is a more grown-up term. In my mind, I can see patterns when I understand things. I see the world as visual patterns of connectivity.' Interview with Richard Saul Wurman, information designer
Do you believe in universal knowledge, as Google and other companies promise? 'I believe in access. I love to have access. I think it’s so American. It’s so open, it’s like America used to be. Positive! It’s about empowerment. However, will they make it happen? Well, Google is a business as well. The question is: How do you bounce the needs of business with the needs of people like you and me?' So it’s not there yet? 'Oh, no! And when people ask: Why isn’t it there yet? I have to say: Well, it’s going to be.' Interview with John Maeda, information scientist