It used to be that design was about looks.
How it felt to consider a thing, that is, started with the visuals.
You approached a brand, for example, like you would a person. If they happen to be good-looking, you think, “Yeah, they’re probably good at what they do.” (See “halo effect.”)
The present and future of media, journalism, art and design (and yes, that’s a lot)
Truth is, though, that in the new era (and who really knows when it changed over to “new”) of media and conversation and branding and design, the first impressions are hardly those of a brand’s look.
Sure, they’re important. You want to see clean design that confirms your ideas about a thing, person, idea, or service that purports to be professional. In order to imbue trust, you want a brand identity that matches a perceived value of class, taste, quality and reliability. But here’s the thing. Great design is now a given. If you don’t have it, you’re going to be overlooked.
There are way too many other people, too many colors, sizes, shapes, snazzy presentations, clever tweets and pithy, agonized-over Facebook updates to be bothered about someone who has ONLY a pretty face.
I’m talking about noise.
My least-favorite thing, ever.
I’ve been talking a lot about this, this being the way it feels to talk about “branding” not as logo design anymore (that was 2006 and before) but about a way of being. Authenticity was the buzzword for a couple of years there, and that was right, but not enough. It’s more than that. It’s a total package.
It’s about being Human.
A human heart and hand have to be part of a brand or you’ll soon throw it out the window because it’s more plastic, made-in-China, faceless, nameless, giant and cumbersome and electronic or not messes of stuff. Stuff isn’t what we’re needing. Read on to find out what is. (And: the picture above will make sense then.)
Yes, all this stuff I’m talking about today, mostly to myself, because you do that when you are on the road for a long time and “practicing the unknown, uncertain and different” through a wacky but deeply confidence-testing project Orangutan Swing (thank you, Akira, for bringing me into this box of putty, where there aren’t any surefire corners, and where the things that emerge are sometimes troubling, but sometimes eye-popping epiphany-making stuff.)
Didn’t really know that we could manage eight months on the road like this without much going on at our DK office, which went virtual in 2008, the same year we had our son. Cashflow issues set in, immediately. So we had to improvise, even back then. More workshops, like this one for University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on design thinking. More creative thinking kinds of projects. Roundtable designing. Events. Even merchandise (but that wasn’t long-lived).
Everything changes when you have a kid, they say, and “they” are totally right. Striking a chord between what we wanted Design Kompany to become, and what we knew we could offer, required taking time to think clearly once our son got old enough to walk around on his own. That was 2013, the year we left, metaphorical notebooks open and ready to report on the things we’ve found in the world.
So we made it “Asia.” Then, “South and Southeast Asia,” Then, four cities:
- Durham (okay, this is the outlier)
Trying to build conversation spaces out of thin air. The work of not just design thinking—look for the unknowns in the places you’d never imagine them—but also of dialogue-making. Journalism meets design when you try to find unique sources. Art happens when you can connect people in a way that makes them talk not just through a conduit (say, Big Media, or advertisement-driven Facebook), but in a space that feels safe, comfortable, and inviting. A space that has to be, for all intensive purposes, designed. That sounds hokey, but in these eight months, it’s been a real fascinating thing to watch it happen. Go somewhere new. Meet people. Find out what’s going on. Look for the story. Create a theme. Invite. Make up a circle. And then, the conversation begins. The conversation that happens from one person to another, but not in the way we’re used to when we go to School and have our Desks in Rows. Nope. We’re circle people here.
Chords. Chords of conversations across the circle.
That’s the magic.
And, if you want to know a secret, it’s where we find out we’re not really so very much different. Or alone. Or in need of something to buy to fill up our hearts, or make something happen that will give us meaning. The conversations ARE the meaning. The so-called village, the one it takes to raise a little child, the one I swore I’d go in search of because, by God, being a new mother and trying to run a, well, I’ll call a spade a spade, a “lifestyle business,” wasn’t exactly a cake walk. Add to that your co-parent is your business partner, and your mother thinks you should “get back to reality” because art-making is a giant waste of time.
You don’t get much help from the ones who don’t see it, though.
The circle. The chords. The art.