The Art of Gnidnarp
Introduction Speech Design Congress 19.10.05 Eindhoven
Susanne Piët

Some experiences you don’t have to share to be able to recognize them.

The famous, to some infamous, author Salmon Rushdie had one, and since he can definitely write and think better I would like to share it with you. As we all know he had the courage to express a candid opinion in Satanic Verses, -hold that title-, about delicate Islam matters which attitudes brought him longtime social expulsion.

The reflection relevant here was caused by the idea of the equally famous photographer Richard Avlon to make a portrait of him. Rushdie obeyed exactly what Avalon asked him to do, though he doubted process and outcome. He had to wear a black raincoat first (and a long exmbroidered shirt later) for mind you interior shoots. He thought silently in himself: Well I let it go, raise my shoulders, its per saldo Avalon. And in the meantime, while posing, he wondered about the mollability, makeability of identity by means of something like photography. And he concluded not without wonder: “This is what I’ll look like it they make me look like that”.

The picture was made, and later he was confronted with the image of his identity in the eyes of a famous photographer. He writes: “To be honest I was shocked and depresssed at first. The photograph looked literally satanic. Part of me accused the photogapher, another more important part of me accused my face”. And he committed himself to a future attitude concerning the relationship with his identity ”I’ll try to look at his picture as if I’m not the subject at all”.

The relationship with your own identity is of big concern in this timeslice. In the train of the untamed hunt for happiness society seems to readjust after the recalculations of time. For some it began on September 11 2001, for other on November 2nd 2004, for other in the summer of 2005, and for many in the autumn of 2005. The post-trauma years are transitional. And with the desires for hooks en holds emerge, fed by social and psychological insecurities and fears new trends come to surface. Most prominent is the trend for a make over, no, not only physical. It’s about the profound wish for a new life, a (re-)designed new identity. Made, designed, to be acknowledged. It’s not only an individual need but also a need of organisations, companies and institutions.

“Branding” has become the keyword for that. It means the personalisation and emotionalisation of brandperception. Marketeers have discovered their niche, reputationmarketing is a big deal, the advertising industry has tried to convert itself to participate.

But right after this acknowledged development yet another trend manifests itself. Maybe even more important and deeper. Its the opposite, it mirrors the former trend.

This time it is not about the need for personalisation of brands, branding, but its about the need for branding of personalities. Logically I call this new desire “gnidnarp”.

The market for gnidnarp is booming. There seems to be an international massive need now to transform and to create an emotional experience inside and outside of that transformation. Our present language in papers and other media delivers signs of that- a need “to redefine your identity”, to “make over” physical and mental, “to reinvent your life”.

This need is essentially relevant to designers. Designers have by definition the task to transform. Somehow that what goes in at their side, comes out differently. And that result should pay off. Designers have to perform magic. This time their assignment is not limited to the visible and the tangible, the decoration, the surface, the furniture, or the logo, but extends to the edible, the smellable, the disputable, thus the conceptual level. You can design an emotional experience of a personality, by any input for perception.

Designers work indeed like a magician. They use the problem, the demand, as input. They work, they invent, they try out, they sketch they produce and something comes out, that creates an experience of wonder, surprise, choc. In between they have used principle and laws of physics, psychology of perception, sociology, to stage a performance in which nothing is voluntary: the techniques, the style, the story, the appearance.

Film directors are designers. The famous movie director Alfred Hitchcock has warned how no to be fooled by the apparent easiness of thrill entertainment on the screen. The bridge between the foreseen emotional shudder and the endeavour to create that emotional effect might seem obvious but isn’t. You have to work with boring precision. In order to deliver the deep fear in the viewer you have to think, produce, mix and serve the right ingredients precise, in the exact dose in the right time and order.

The infamous shower scene of Psycho serves as his example. As a viewer you will never have an accurate survey of what is really happening during the brutal slaying of Janet Leigh, but the 49 carefully in rythm and sequence cut close upshots, of which only 2 contain blood, create a sensation that has marked cinematographic history of thrill. Hitchock compares this work of magic with the cook. In a documentary he uses two giant pepper and salt mills to illustrate his point. Maybe it’s not so coincidental that exactly now cooks figure as icons, as our most fashionable topdesigners, of our lives nowadays.

My thesis is: Designers are the new magicians of the emotion market.

The Emotion Market : You have no hunger, you don’t really die of thurst, your safety is in good paid hands of security portfolios, you can have a social life if you want to, which is a luxury you would gladly be dismissed of from time to tome. Are your circumstances like this, then you must live in a society where the emotion market, the forum of the experience economy, could bloom.

The emotion market, is the continuously growing part of economy where financial value equals the quality of emotional experience of all parties involved. This part is limited to those societies where this luxury is permitted, but it doesn’t know boundaries when it comes to term of physical frontiers, cultures, races of classes. It is not necessarily an American or a White thing. The phenomenon of the growing emotion market can be perceived from South America to Asia. And designers can provide for them the emotional experience needed or wished for.

One new thing in the emotion-market is, as I explained, that people and organisational bodies want to create an emotional valuable personality, identity by input of those all. The other new thing is that these consumers don’t want to be pure consumers any more; lounging and hanging is out, they want to co-produce. They want to get means, expertise and support to redesign, reinvent their new identity themselves.

This means that, where potentially everybody can become his own designer, of his own aspired identity, the real professionals have to either retreat or to take a higher step (this depends of the point of view). In that case they enter the land of blurry boundaries, where they can to climb the conceptual mountain of magic with inspiration of psychology, anthropology, sociology on their way as much as style-consciousness, market awareness, commercial gutfeeling or taste.

An emotional experience is of course more than the colour of a chair. I discern blurring boundaries in terms of territory, expertise, markets. I’m thus not necessarily referring to conventional designers, its also for architects, fashion designers, marketeers, artists, communication experts and even philosophers and, I’m afraid to add: psychologists.

This is why I find it fascinating, we have a beautiful task at hand, to fill and exploit the promise of the land of the blurry boundaries. A promise that is called Gnidnarp.

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