The User-Illusion of the World

This is how you market Nomad, volume II

This article really artistically describes how to market a high-tech product -- touching on user-centric design, hardware as a conduit for software services, and marketing based on the heightened emotional responses available from the virtual worlds of media. This is one of the most brilliant things I've read in a long time. And what's printed here is just an excerpt.

The User-Illusion of the World (1)

The User-Illusion of the World (2)

We need graphic interfaces which are not only user-friendly, but which make people addicted, like drugs do. Like Nintendo does.

-- Former Apple CEO Michael Spindler

By Norbert Bolz

I'm of the opinion that all of our contemporary culture's identity crises result from the demands of a new man-machine synergy; terms such as 'interface' and 'user surface' attest to this. The human being is no longer a user of tools, but rather a relay switch in the media syndicate, engaged in a circuit.

When you buy a computer, you're not only buying a piece of hardware but also, and above all, a bundle of software - with the promise of user-friendliness. By no means does this imply that the user is supposed to understand what it does, but rather that it will spare him any irritation. A user-friendly computer allows me to forget that I'm working on a computer: its interface design protects me from the post-human technology of the digital. In a simple analogy, you can drive a car your whole life long without ever having to look under the hood a single time. And you can definitely work on a computer your whole life long without ever even having to peek beneath the user interface.

This magic [of the interface] is design's most important effect. Designers are indeed the masters of simplification. Their task is to reduce complexity in such a way that the user surface offers us a meaningful image, an image of meaning. When you turn on your computer, you don't see the dangerous logical profundities of the digital on the screen, but instead a series of trusted icons. And these icons suggest to you, as used to be the case in the world of people, that you're operating an analog device. The designer, wants to seduce one towards use, and therefore has to whittle away people's fear of technology. Design, then, no longer strives for functional or objective transparence, but rather for security and the trust of the world.

'User' is the honourable name for the customers of simplicity. They don't want to know anything about programs and processors, but prefer instead to remain on the friendly user surface. This has consequences for our lifestyle. We have learned to take things at interface value, says Sherry Turkle correctly. We accept not knowing what's going on inside the Black Box computer because the knowledge of what's going on inside is not germane to understanding its social function.

Form now follows the feelings of consumers, and not the function of things. We can add here that the great emotions, our culture's grand loves and passions, have been displaced and are now longing for spaces where they can act themselves out. In the material world of modern civilisation, emotions are heading towards a chasm. You could say that we live in a vacuum of the great emotions. And this is where post-modern consumption jumps in. Emotional Design facilitates the transfer of 'interpersonal' values to the world of things. And that's why marketing and advertising are beginning to offer emotional patterns. In this context, that means learning from Hollywood.

Since the Pop Art revolution, one thing has become certain: emotions do not display their true intensity in life, but rather in the media and via consumption. And so today we have so-called 'theme worlds' which offer us a 'surreal' compression of experience. What they offer is even more real than reality itself. If you really want to experience something, you no longer look for this experience in empirical reality, but rather in its virtual counterpart - it's pliable, and less likely to break down.

Emotional Design now operates exactly like the media. It presents the product as an erotic event; human attraction can no longer compete with this. Media and the consumption of experiences submerge us in a world of virtual experiences - everything else, namely the real, is too dangerous. Emotional Design has two major sources of power: the impenetrability of our technological world and the vacuum of the great emotions.

Emotional Design furnishes our wayward emotions with an external grip: it offers emotional formulas. And in this sense, even German Romanticism was a kind of Emotional Design. You can't formulate Emotional Design's task more succinctly than Wackenroder did when he called it the compression of the meandering emotions which have been lost in real life. Emotional Design offers patterns upon which consumers can model their own emotions - and this is exactly what Hollywood films have been doing for years now. Communication design shapes the experiences within the medium of consumption. It is no longer everyday objects which are being designed, but rather relationship patterns.

And what does this mean for the economy? When you look at the market from the customer's perspective, the product is transformed into a problem solution or a wish fulfilment. And that's why the 'new marketing' sells goods as problem solutions. Anyone who buys something eventually turns up in the manufacturer's reports. So even hardware is now appearing in the form of a service. In other words, marketing necessarily has to be communication design, because communication no longer determines only consumption, but production as well.

A post-modern company's market range is shifting from products to problem solutions. Post-modern goods bear an informational character; companies which offer consulting, design and system management deal purely with information. And even traditional products can only be sold these days if they have a 'communicative index.' Communication, then, competes with consumption. Anyone who wants to hold his ground in the post-modern marketplace has to come up with forms of consumption which reflect the communicative desire. And marketing has to be communication design, since communication has now been superimposed onto consumption.

As we've seen, communication design is no longer directed at consciousness, but rather at its immune system, namely the emotions. Emotions correspond to patterns of relationships and are in a certain way learned. Thus it's possible to model emotions. Emotional Design crafts patterns of feelings, and I think that marketing managers could learn something decisive from cultural historians in this regard. In the ancient world, on the threshold of Western civilisation, emotions didn't originate spontaneously in people but were instead drilled into them 'by the gods.' Today we can say, very analogously, that emotions are drilled into us by design and by the media.