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VII.3 May 2000
Page: 17
Digital Citation

Design: no here, now where?


Authors:
Bill Hill, Austin Henderson, Kate Ehrlich

I warn you this is going to be pretty Californian, and I think really important. He claims this chart is a representation of most of the world’s traditions of wisdom at least at some fundamental level. For me, it is also a map of the world of design and branding, particularly in relation to e-commerce.

Let’s call Wilber’s chart a map of being that begins with Matter. The first nest of being contains physical objects, such as rocks, water, and air, that can be defined by physics.

Transcending and including Matter is Life. This does not mean that we can forget about Matter and move on to Life; we have to transcend or envelop Matter while we move to a new plane or nest that is now living, capable of sensations that can be defined by biology. Birds flying, plants growing, cells multiplying. Life includes matter but has evolved.

The next nest is that of Mind, which includes both Matter and Life but adds the dimension of language. This again is key, because it is through language that human beings can create logic or reasoning. I contend that although animals communicate, they cannot invent history. To understand this nest, we look to the domains of psychology, philosophy, and other social sciences.

Moving into the next nest, Soul, the direct connection to the material world further decreases. Yet it cannot lose touch with all that is included—Matter, Life, Mind—or the entity cannot exist. Wilber speaks of theology as the study of this domain, and I have to catch myself here, to not hear religion. This is actually where I feel we live as designers.

Finally we reach Spirit and I will not venture into that nest at this point, but suffice it to say that something greater likely exists.

I began to speculate about how I could map design onto this Great Nest of Being. Would that help to locate what is happening in the world of radical innovations being revealed by the Web? Could it inform our understanding of branding and customer experience?

Let’s try mapping design and branding back to this Great Nest of Being. Beginning with Matter and speaking from my history, this nest contains typography, industrial design, package design, and other things. These are things that we can touch and that live in a world very much based in physics and in which the brand identity lives in an apparently fixed, measurable real world.

Next is the nest of Life. I would categorize what is found here as "design that moves," such as early CD-ROMs, the graphical user interface, first-generation Web sites. By this I mean interactions, where there were some exchange between the user and the product but no building of memory or recursion.

As we move into the nest of Mind, things get more interesting. Here I see interactive CD-ROMs such as VizAbility, Web sites such as Amazon, chat rooms, avatars, custom profiling, and ubiquitous computing in general. It’s a world where information is being shared not just as data, but as interactions and experiences, and where new meanings are being produced. I think most of the online world is nested here and that this is where our conversation of brand identity and customer experience originates.

I want to digress here for a moment and revisit a talk given two years ago by Larry Keeley at Living Surfaces. During his talk, he mapped a plethora of roles—some from design—against an enlarging and unfolding map of Information Design, Interaction Design, Transaction Systems, Experience Systems, and Interactive Systems Theory. I remember being both excited and daunted by this image and could see where MetaDesign in particular was already exploring in some areas and where we would likely need to go deeper if we were going to evolve and remain competitive in the Web-enabled world. In the Theory grouping Larry placed such roles as linguist, sociologist, and philosopher. Would this be a good place to look for resources and innovation in customer experience and branding?

Back to the nest of Soul. In this nest I could imagine finding a CD that would make me cry, a design that would embody more than thought, one that evoked in the user emotion, passion, a soulful connection. It would be more about community perhaps…

When I look now, I find the current offering in this nest of Soul pretty sparse in the online world of the e-economy. I don’t mean to imply that nothing is happening in the nest of Soul, just not much related to branding and customer experience. Yet. Certainly much of the work that is being presented in this conference originates in the nest of Soul.

I think that Steve Jobs and his vision of Apple, now in its second incarnation, will help me make another point. Steve represents the essence of a visionary who spends time in a different nest than most of us are currently living and then brings us along with him to fulfill his vision in the world today.

The invention of the Mac was not the work of someone working alone; quite the contrary. Rather, I think it was the invention in language and the coordination in language of engineers, programmers, graphic designers, marketing professionals, and others who were wrapped up in Steve’s vision and in the journey of turning it out. The analogy I made in looking at the Great Nest of Being was that the innovator was connected to a different level of awareness or nest but could not stay in that area if the innovation was to have existence. It had to be given physical form in Matter, it had to be Alive, it had to engage our Minds, and finally it had to touch our Souls.

But this energy does not sustain itself without people holding a soulful commitment, and when Steve left Apple, I believe this spark left also.

With the emergence of the iMac, what is it that has returned? It doesn’t seem to just be about colored cases, or G4 processors, or ad campaigns, but what is behind them that is in essence, Steve Jobs’ soulful vision of Apple.

Is it because Apple did great user research and concluded that there was a market for translucent, candy-colored computers? Or is it about community, belonging, and self-actualization? We see in the "Think Different" campaign heroes in art, science, entertainment, charity, and other human concerns. Many speakers have pointed to these boxes during the conference as examples of material or Matter. I think that it goes deeper and that what Jobs has done is in the nest of Soul:

  1. He has connected us to emotion and excitement.
  2. And with his vision, he has allowed us to "see" computers again.

Varela says: "When we are in touch with our ‘open nature,’ our emptiness, we exert an enormous attraction to other human beings. There is great magnetism in that state of being which has been called ‘authentic presence.’ If others are in that same space or entering it, they resonate with us and immediately doors are open to us. It is not strange or mystical. It is part of the natural order.

There is great danger if we consider these people (with open natures) to be exceptional. They are not. This capacity is a part of the natural order and is a manifestation of something we haven’t seen previously, not something we do not have. This state is available to us all, all we have to do is squint and see that it has been there all along, waiting for us" [1, p. 179].

I believe Varela when he says we all can operate out of the nest of the Soul and the Spirit; we just have to see it. Designers that are able to transcend and include form giving while inventing customer experience and brand identity will be operating out of the nest of the Soul. We do not describe the world we see, we see the world we describe.

How can we do this? One suggestion comes from Larry Keeley. We could get better at partnering with all kinds of disciplines we haven’t worked with before. The value of bringing these people together is that designers meet linguists, programmers, philosophers, and storytellers, and when they are all working in the nest of the Soul, they encourage each other to work from this space. And I believe great brand experiences have to, and will, grow from this space.

People in conversation create brands. I believe that powerful brands are invented in the realm of Soul and Spirit and only exist in the passionate or emotive interactions of people. Brand isn’t just user experience; brand is passionate user experience. Experience with meaning, experience with emotion.

Just as Wilber proposes that we are moving from Matter to Spirit, I think we all see that brand is moving from fixed identity into mindful and, now I hope, passionate, meaningful interactions. The Web is revealing this evolution at a pace that far exceeds anything in the past and the next step for us as designers is to bring Soul and Spirit to table.

References

1. Jaworski, Joseph. Synchronicity, The Inner Path of Leadership. Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1996.

2. Wilber, Ken. The Marriage of Sense and Soul, Integrating Science and Religion. Random House, New York, 1998.

Author

Design Column Editors

Kate Ehrlich
Viant
89 South St, 2nd Floor
Boston MA 02111
(617) 531-3700
kehrlich@viant.com

Austin Henderson
Rivendel Consulting & Design, Inc.
P.O. Box 334
8115 La Honda Rd. (for courier services)
La Honda, CA 94020 USA
+1-650-747-9201
fax: +1-650-747-0467
henderson@rivcons.com
www.rivcons.com

Figures

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©2000 ACM  1072-5220/00/0500  $5.00

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