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BE PHENOMENAL

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. 

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    Can’t wait to see the full presentation on this.
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