The Emerging Object Culture
Meanings Are Sought Through Social Identities, Visual Information and Interfaces / Interactions
by Idris Mootee
There are objects that I love for many different reasons. They range from my Leicas to my JBL speakers, LV bags, Prada shoes and Mac computers. Objects that are highly functional can also be highly personal … expressive, reliable and artistic. Designers, brand marketers and product development executives often have to deal with the philosophical dilemmas such as subject vs. object; humanity vs. nature; function vs. style; and simplicity vs. complexity. Every time we come up with an innovative product design or experience we need to consider all of these things.
When does the value of a product exceeds its functional value and at what point the emotive value reaches a point of diminishing return? What is the value of the emotive premium or should there be a premium at all? Can we engineer emotive elements into the design without adding cost? Whose job is it? Did they teach that in MBA or MFA ? Or neither? It is something we think about everyday at Idea Couture. The engineering of desire; emotive attributes as product features; and interactions as gateways to collective experiences.
We are definitely reaching another higher state of our “object-culture” when consumer electronics such as cell phones and other gadgets replace or compliment our usual “badges” and these new form of badges are more than just symbols of tribes and tastes, they are windows to our other world – somewhere that our identities are developed and validated. It is worth to deploy our anthropologists to study the new role and meaning of social objects (electronics gadgets) and what it means to marketers.
Honestly speaking, I think men need badges more than women and men likes to see the world in groups and believe people in groups (including clubs, schools, sports, tribes, politics, religions or nations) tend to differ from one another to such a degree that they perceive each other as though they were totally different species from another planet. These groups (reflect by badges) provide their members with a strong sense of distinct and superior identity.
As designers and marketers we design objects that wonderfully fit in the palm of our hands; sometimes bring us a sense of confidence and occasionally moments of delights in the form of a text message. This is what it looks like. It’s got a little touch screen on it; you can shake it and it will respond to your command. It is ultra thin and fits nicely into the pockets of your Hugo Boss jacket. Call this the period of late modernity or post-modernity if you wish. We are living in a time when the legacy of the modern era, in which empiricism and utilitarianism rise to prominence. It is simply just part of being human. And that’s why marketing and product design is never a true science despite people come up with useless fancy tools.
Philosopher Charles Taylor has offered an explanation of the meaning of these activities within modern societies. He says that in the modern worldview meaning is sought through concepts such as progress, reason and freedom and a sense of meaning in one’s life. I think technology is a clear sign of “progress”, collective thinking and reasoning in mass and real time code is the redefinition of “reason” and “freedom” is reflected through Facebook and other social media. Let’s see what our anthropologists have to add.
Now back to my day job. It is not so fun anymore when my to-do-list is longer than my blog post.
Idris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.
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