Love By Design

Mar 4, 2010

The term “designer” is pretty broad. I only consider myself one because I’ve found an interest in expressing my theories through tangible mediums. At heart, though, I’m really just a storyteller and my real passion is not for products but for people.

In what I like to call my “spectrum of subjectivity,” I believe people fall on a line between being very objective-minded and being very subjective-minded. Those on the objective side tend to be more left-brained, mathematical and logical in their thinking and those on the other end are more right-brained, creative and emotional. I think most of us fall somewhere between the two extremes, making the majority of us able to communicate in more ways than one. But in the cases where people fall at one of the extremes, I suggest that their ability to communicate decreases in breadth and increases in depth. If you look at the greatest musicians, writers and artists over the centuries, you see a pattern whereby their brilliance and depth of human understanding is evidenced in their work, yet their interpersonal face-to-face relationships suffer. The same is true for the greatest scientists and mathematicians. The latter made strides in understanding how we work; the former in how we feel. If you move along the line to further extremes, I think there’s a threshold whereby you lose the ability to communicate entirely, in any medium, and you just live inside your head, consumed by your own thoughts. Fortunately or unfortunately, we have pills for that now.

Design falls in a tricky mix of these two extremes. We must use logical, objective reasoning to affect essentially unpredictable and emotional beings. It seems almost paradoxical. Yet we’ve continually seen timeless and effective design in a multitude of mediums for centuries that has affected humanity on deep levels, perhaps illustrating that while we’re all very different emotionally, there are fundamental truths we all share. And that’s pretty interesting, especially to someone like me who’s always felt so distant from everyone else.

I talk a lot about my childhood and my relationship with my parents but in no way do I mean to imply that it wasn’t loving. In fact, I’d venture to say I had too much of it growing up which didn’t prepare me for the lack that exists in the real world. I was raised by people in touch with their emotions and express them freely and then cast into a society of peers who deemed it uncool to do just that.

I love being expressive, doing things for my friends, hosting parties, building social circles and “feeling the love.” To many, it seems out of place, so they try to label it with something more familiar to them (and we all love meeting expectations, right?). I’ve continually found it difficult for people who know me to just accept that maybe there is no technical term for the way I am – I just love love.

It’s nice to feel taken care of, considered, respected, trusted. Nice isn’t even the right word; it’s essential. I think we all really want that at a core level but we cover up over time as we find that the world doesn’t always give us what we want. It’s self-defense, really. Otherwise I see no reason why anyone would not naturally be nice, loving or caring about people they meet. The fact of the matter is, I think we’re a bit starved for it in society – some more than others, of course. But we don’t need much – just little things here and there. They make us feel better put together than individually. It’s the Gestalt theory of psychology – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is key to a brand’s success. As long as they’ve existed, companies have tried to “keep the customer in mind” saying things like “the customer is always right”, “we’re here for you”, “you’re special”, “you’re our priority” etc. But if we don’t see it in the little things, it isn’t really true. When you actually look at what Virgin America, for example, does with their brand, you can see why they’re so successful to the point that people are actually willing to pay more for the experience. Every point along your interaction with them, from when you buy your ticket to when you arrive at your destination, is carefully branded to make you feel taken care of. In general, people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars more to sit in first class for what essentially costs the airline nothing – a meal, a movie, a bigger seat, a pillow. The same is true for Apple, in which every detail is carefully designed and obsessed about. They care and we care, so we pay more.

It’s always seemed silly to me that we tend to think of designers as people who “make things look pretty.” The way I look at it, we’re not that at all. There’s a huge difference between those with the technical skillset to render a nice-looking button and those who observe the world and make inferences on what makes us tick, thereby defining the reason for needing such a button in the first place. The problem is that a lot of designers make things based on how they feel which, though emotional in practice, is internally-oriented and totally subjective. Just because they like a color doesn’t mean it actually speaks to the rest of the world. I think really effective designers are inherently psychologists who manifest their theories in objective principles that guide the design.

As a designer, it’s not about you. I’ve learned the hard way, having desperately tried for years to understand and build relationships with my peers and being continually told that what I think doesn’t matter – it’s about what everyone else expects.

We’re starry-eyed with the idea of “changing the world” and that really means affecting humanity – a never-ending quest. Constantly on my mind and something that can, at times, consume me, I do it out of wanting love and wanting to give it. I wish I could break down these walls that people put up to prevent them from being emotional and really connected. But until that happens, I’ll just continue to help make things that try to nudge us closer.

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