How to get into Husserl’s head, from EXCENTRICITÉ CONCENTRIQUE. Also, “Jeez, hey you didn’t get through the substantive work down there” should be a t-shirt slogan.
a notebook of thoughts from GMD Studios' Brian Clark on experience design, storytelling & phenomenology
“Attention is what creates value. Artworks are made as well by how people interact with them — and therefore by what quality of interaction they can inspire. So how do we assess an artist who we suspect is dreadful but who manages to inspire the right storm of attention, and whose audience seems to swoon in the appropriate way? We say, ‘Well done.’” - ”Happy Birthday, Brian Eno: The Father of Ambient Music on Art”
You want me to describe myself? If I could do that I would assume that I existed, that I was a person. But I’ve always assumed that I don’t exist, that I am not a person. Therefore, what applies to people doesn’t apply to me, you know. It’s a way of escaping.
Just came back from a lovely time with the diaspora of transmedia creators at the StoryWorld conference in Los Angeles where I tried presenting this idea for the first time. I was humbled by such a warm reception for the idea (especially from my friends and colleagues.)
Thanks to my friends at Transmedia LA and a bit of PowerPoint conversion there’s actually a record of that moment. It might not be immediately clear to people outside of the transmedia community why there was so much laughter at the beginning of my presentation (I was making references to the landscape of definition debates that led me to here), but the rest is fairly straight-forward.
Now on to the work of making a movement out of this!
I’m headed today to Los Angeles to be part of the wonderful StoryWorld Conference, one of my favorite gatherings of the global community of experimental storytellers each year. On Friday, I’ll put this new idea in front of some of the smartest brains on the planet and make the argument that we need a global design movement based on phenomenology (or that we already are one and just didn’t realize it.)
So this point represents a sort of transition. What came before this was (at best) a disjointed notebook of ideas and discoveries that led to how I’m now thinking about my work. From here forward, I’ll try to stay focused on expanding the argument around the five core concepts that have boiled up from that into the manifesto: what it means to put audiences at the center of work, the realization that audiences create meaning (not us), a critique of the shortcomings of the language we’re using as a community, an exploration of the universal rules of design this leads us to, and what it would mean to think of ourselves as a movement.
A New Translation of an Old Idea about Design & Audiences
I’m living at the end of the age of objects. As bits continue to replace atoms, the things I make have never been less material. And yet, I find that the experience of an e-book is like a paperback, an MP3 like a vinyl disc, and social media like being together in person. Many different phenomena emerge from the potential of what I make, as different as the experience of watching a movie in a theater, on a television, a phone or the seat back in front me. I want to create meaningful experiences for people. They are why I create. I choose to put the audience, instead of the object, at the center of my work.
I admit that none of this is new: if I pick up “Moby Dick” today I will have a different experience than I did in high school – not because the book has changed, but because I have. If I read it again in twenty years, it will be a new experience yet again. I choose to embrace that the audience creates the meaning of my work.
I will resist the urge to make fake objects out of phenomena. I know what it means to socialize with other people, and I know a whole field (sociology) exists to study that. I don’t need a new phrase like “social media” to describe the act of being social online. I pick being social over having a social media presence and being a person over having a personal brand. I need new ways to talk about my work, not new words to describe it. I choose to stop tying myself into knots.
I’m liberated by these choices. They lead me to recognize when other creators made similar choices and to realize the techniques they used are also useful to me (even if we work in such different disciplines as architecture, poetry and game design). I’m excited that because these techniques are based on how people experience anything and everything, they are the most universal principles of design. I’m part of a heritage of artists, philosophers, scientists and designers who have been inspired by this idea, called phenomenology, for more than a century. I choose to follow in their footsteps and re-awaken people’s sense of wonder.
I suspect you feel this way too. I see these ideas at play in your work as much as mine. We’ve talked around these concepts for years. Now, we only have to choose to do something about it. We don’t have to change what we call ourselves. We don’t have to start a new industry, claim this is a new art form, or invent a new buzz phrase like we’ve tried in the past. We only have to put the audience at the center of our work and embrace that we craft phenomena as much as we do objects. We only have to choose to be phenomenal.