tetrad of
SCALES

The designer needs to operate at diverse scales of resolution – macro, meso, micro, and increasingly, nano. Planners or policy makers and designers of algorithms operate at a macro scale, such as the layout of cities, the design and implementation of a social welfare scheme or a facial recognition system, impacting countless number of people, through their design decisions. Urban designers and architects operate at a meso scale, influencing the design of not just individual buildings but also neighbourhoods, which ultimately enhance or ruin the aesthetics of towns or cities, and even the countryside. Designers, engineers and professionals of many trades, as well as the general populace, design and make artefacts at micro scales such as cars and clothes to phones that fit in the palm of our hands; screws and pins that hold things together and even improvisations that deal with everyday exigencies. Increasingly, designers are manipulating matter at a nano scale, invisible to the eye, such as the sequencing of DNA.

Scale thus governs our encounters with the world. Will I shape it (participatory policy making, for example) or will my life be permanently shaped by it (a Bill of Rights, for example)? Will I live inside it or will it live inside me (a pacemaker, for example)? Will I hold it in my hand or will it hold me (a cradle, for example)? Can I see it with my eyes or will it see me (a CCTV camera or X-ray machine, for example)?

To grasp scale is to be able to understand not just physical dimensions35 but to grapple with the multi-dimensional inter-relationships of the things we design to us, to other things and to the natural environment within which we are temporary visitors.

  1. When thinking about scale, the student will find it useful to think about the relationship of artefacts to the human body. See Le Corbusier’s Modular, Leonardo da Vinci’s diagram The Vitruvian Man, and the film Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames.