Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Design and the Elastic Mind

NOTE: In a few days, I'll announce the launch of our new www.method.com website. As part of the modern condition (and an up-to-date approach to extending our brand), we've got a corporate blog. Some of my thinking will be shifted there. I'll try to cross-post when appropriate. The following post is appropriate.

On Saturday, I took a trip up to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The purpose of my visit was primarily to see the "Colour Chart" exhibit, although I also went with every intention of spending a good bit of time in the "Design and the Elastic Mind Exhibit." Both exhibits were entirely worthwhile, so if you are in New York before May 12th, check them out. But what was remarkable, particularly in comparison to the extremely accessible Color Chart exhibit, was how complete the enthrallment of the capacity crowd streaming through the Design exhibit.

After taking an hour to wander through the exhibit, I took another 45 minutes to simply people watch, to observe how the Saturday afternoon tourist crowd engaged with the various pieces in the show. It was an amazing spectacle, as young and old, bearded and bespectacled, distinctly European and distinctly New Jersey-an were all poring over the tiny and numerous explanations of each installation, leaning over exhibit tables and pressing their faces up against cases to get closer looks at objects, and touching things that they were instructed clearly not to touch. Why? Not because the design objects were immediately and obviously cool. Many of them, in fact, were not obviously cool. They were not shiny metal things, but rather, took a bit of study and consideration to appreciate the value of the object itself..

What quickly became clear was that so much of the crowd was completely taken by the explanations of the design objects -- engaged with the thinking and leaps of imagination that informed the design, as documented in the attached descriptions, or as intuited by the curious museum-goers. As much as the objects themselves, people found delight in unraveling or having explained the smarts that went into making them. The product of design wasn't the only cool thing. Design was the cool thing, too.

So what? Well, working in a design firm, I think that one of the unique challenges we face is to find ways to engage the audiences of our design more deeply in our process. For both the consumers of the experiences we build and for our clients, part of the value that we can add (and part of the delight that we can stimulate) is by helping our audiences appreciate the thinking behind our design. This may be by actually including them in our process, or it might be by designing products and experiences that, in addition to being elegant and valuable, are themselves articulate about the analysis or inspiration or intuition from which they sprung.

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