We are in a conflict between a section of the World who believes and another part who understands. This is not a schism between the East and West or Christian and Muslim. This is bigger. Some call it a war between
civilization and terrorism, but it is really a clash between intellect and emotion. We could even think of it as a contest between design and the supernatural, having passed the tipping point when one of the U.S. presidential candidates
declares in his nomination acceptance speech that he "stands on the side of science!"making truth sound like a minority opinion!
An objective art
This situation is critical to Design, because it's hard to be a designer when arbitrary decisions define the results. Designers may look artistic, but our process is logical. Good design is an objective artit's not magic or
mystical; designers make real things that actually do things. We solve problems, design stuff for clients, or make our own things to sell to other people. In order to make these things for people, of course, we need a reliable foundationa
shared perception of reality. Our work is based on experiment, hypothesis and testing, and since we are using our talents to make people's lives easier, more comfortable, richer or more beautiful, we need to inhabit the rational
world of physics. One of the most striking differences between my humanities education and my industrial design education was that in the latter, we actually had to make real things for class, not just talk about intentions. This
process was rational and deliberate, and not dissimilar to a scientific-method quest for truth.
Meanwhile, businesspeople have learned that by dealing on an emotional level with their customers, they can make more money; that creating emotional attachments to their products and services can increase the perception of being
more valuable to their customers. "Strong Brands create strong emotional bonds." The business trend of focusing on user needs in order to create emotional connections sounds like a good idea because emotions are powerful
and irrationalpeople want stuff they like! "Colors that mesmerize, scents that seduceretailing with passion..." declares Marc Gobé in his book "Emotional Branding." And the design profession
fosters the idea that emotional reactions are good. Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frogdesign declared: "Form follows emotion!" "Create surprise, passion, and excitement," instructs Patrick Gournay, CEO of the
Body Shop. "Transformation of brands from product-based propositions to emotionally driven ones is happening at lightning speed," says Nick Graham, Chief Underpants Officer at Joe Boxer. But advertisers and marketers rely
on easy emotions to take advantage of consumers. The emotional desire for a Coke means that people world-wide will want to buy one whether they are thirsty or not. Finding those touch-points, and exploiting them, is what business
pays designers to do these days. But, like doctors, a designer's job goes way beyond the metrics of P&L or ROI. Good design doesn't just seduce people into buying stuff, it creates a better world.
For designers, the struggle between the have's and the have-not's isn't about security or the protection of someone's possessionswe want to find ways to make everyone happy and to spread the wealth. But the Information Age
juggernaut reveals (or precipitates) a growing split between the know's and the dunno's. Up until 9/11, the know's and the have's could be viewed as more or less the same group (conventional wisdom that knowledge leads to a higher
standard of living). But now the market economy and fundamental religions are twisting the truth, disconnecting knowledge from reality, making imaginary concoctions and glorifying emotions so much that rational discourse is becoming
eclipsed. (Consider: the have's are demanding that creationism be taught in science classes!)
Maybe what I was taught in school was wrong, but the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason gave us the 17th and 19th centuries' best minds: Voltaire, Locke, Newton, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Kant, Paine, and Jefferson. Here, the big idea
is based on the realization [REAL] that science was able to describe events and natural phenomena in ways that allowed us to anticipate and effect changesand to discuss, disprove and change minds about how to deal with them.
With the Renaissance drive for humanism and empiricism, and the discoveries made possible with the inventions of the microscope and the telescope, humans were able to see both little and big stuff revealed up close in an objective
manner. These developments were in contrast to the pagan magic, dogmatic religious beliefs and religious wars of the Dark Ages. Enlightenment provided a framework for the American and French Revolutions, and even in the Cold War
between the Free World and the Communists, both side's cultures were built on a shared platform of science and logical explanation. Now we seem to be moving backwards. Voltaire warned us: "Those who can make you believe absurdities
can make you commit atrocities."
Reverse Sputnik Effect
George Bush has declared a War on Terror where neither side seems sensible. Al Qaeda's blind rage against American commercial culture and/or the Zionist Empire is the result of dogmatic fundamentalism. But the series of arguments
for America's attack on Iraq (first WMDs, then a switch to democracy-building) have not only turned out to be factually baseless, but have also demonstrated Bush's disregard for the process of reason. For both sides, then, Truth
has been sacrificed to an emotional need for revenge. And in this climate, it makes it really hard to solve problems when people don't even agree on what the problem is! When the Russians sent Sputnik into space, it triggered American
support for education, science and engineering; 9/11 seems to have triggered a spurt of irrationality and anger, and we can't build a reliable future on these feelings. It's even harder when society doesn't share the basic idea
about what constitutes truth, and when people in power, along with the marketers, seem to think that emotions are the basis for everything. In our world, brands, politicians, television and religions are all "experience providers,"
as Bernd Schmitt call it them in "Experiential Marketing: How to Get Customers to SENSE, FEEL, THINK, ACT, RELATE to Your Company and Brands"
Lowest Common Denominator
When we appeal to the lowest emotions, we lose out on involving the higher intellectual capacitiesthose facilities are harder to control and satisfy. Emotions are arbitrary and self-centered, and not all emotions are good.
Hitler built the Third Reich by enflaming bad emotions. Living by gut reactions and shooting from the hip may give us instant gratification, but long term indigestion. Glorifying emotions doesn't encourage intellectual progress,
and it may very well confuses things. Happy, but perhaps less-than-clear-thinking, consumers might buy more stuff, but the Good Business=dumb consumers equation is a short term folly. Exalting emotional connections with customers
doesn't build a population of fulfilled citizens, and when we encourage thinking, it helps us manage ourselves. What's wrong with smart consumers=better world?
This is not some parlor game of left vs. right brain or emotions vs. intellect, it's fiction vs. truth. Design is about Truthboth real and objective; we "realize" objects in the work that we do. And so it's a battle
between design and magic, and in those terms, we need to be a little more like Houdini, who spent much of his time and passion exposing clairvoyant spiritualist's hoaxes. Designers need to use their magic against the gathering cloud
of emotional hokum about to engulf the entire world.
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Tucker Viemeister is President of Springtime-USA, a partnership with the young Dutch industrial design company. Their clients include Heineken, Nike, Kate Spade and Coca-Cola. A Pratt
graduate, Tucker helped found some important design organizations: Razorfish's physical design capability, frogdesign's New York office, Smart Design (he helped design OXO "GoodGrips"). He is VP of the Architectural League
of New York, Chair of the Rowena Reed Kostellow Fund, and Fellow of the Industrial Designers Society of America. He produced and designed "Elements
of Design: Rowena Reed Kostellow." He teaches at NYU's ITP.