(French for cobbling together; handyman / DIY activities) Something constructed by whatever materials happen to be at hand; a whole created by a mishmash of disparate elements.

In Anthropology, a term introduced by French structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss. It referred to the process by which preliterate cultures acquired knowledge (The Savage Mind, 1966), and was characterized by improvisation, adaption and pragmatic reliance on available materials. The term has been expanded by cultural studies theorists to encorporate any process where appropriation and re-assembly of existing materials and signifiers generates new knowledge, identity and reality. Bricolage is often not entirely rational, intentional or planned, and is colored by the associations and resonances of the media used and the personality of the author. Concerns about an end product, if present at all, can be secondary to the process of production and discovery of the new. Bricolage can range from subculture fashions (Dick Hebdige, Subculture, the Meaning of Style) to the construction of a home page to a tech rep attempting to fix a customer's problem (Julian E. Orr, Talking About Machines : An Ethnography of a Modern Job).

Bricolage is the title of an Amon Tobin album, released in 1997 by Ninja Tune. True to its name, the music of Bricolage is a combination of styles (jazz, hip hop, film score, drum n bass, jungle) created entirely from samples. A brilliant album, though not in my opinion quite up to the quality of his masterpiece Supermodified.

1. Stoney Street
2. Easy Muffin
3. Yasawas
4. Creatures
5. Chomp Samba
6. New York Editor
7. Defocus
8. The Nasty
9. Bitter & Twisted
10. Wires & Snakes
11. One Day In My Garden
12. Dream Sequence
13. One Small Step
14. Mission

Bricolage is the way most people learn about computers. Cobbling things together.
I am not saying this in a disparaging way, I learn about taxes and medicine and bicycles by bricolage, which means that I do not have a comprehensive theory of the fiscal system, or of the human body or of bicycles.

Anyway, the fact that people learn computers by bricolage has a massive impact on UI design: they will not read your carefully thought out manual, they will try a little thing here ... a little thing there ... I wonder what happens when I push the big red button.

That is why when designing computer systems for the general public it is our responsability to make them both bricolage-safe (which Windows 95/98 is not, and Unixes generally are) and bricolage-learnable (which Windows probably is, I suspect more than Unix variants).

Anyway, the moment when you transition from bricolage to a somewhat more solid theory - like I did in photography when I started reading about it -, this moment is really great. No more disparate salad-like bits of knowledge and folklore: the things suddenly makes sense. One is able to make previsions. Insight hits.

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