I had always thought to myself sitting in a theater as the lights slowly fade out making way for the picture on the screen to come alive – “this is just brilliant!” I never knew why, but somehow I liked the idea of the lights slowly and pleasantly fading out, rather than getting switched off/on abruptly. This was and obviously still is being used in most cinemas around the world. Why am I writing about this here?
Because of Richard Seymour. The co-founder of Seymourpowell – A ‘global design & innovation company’.
I chanced upon his TED talk here and was reminded of this incredibly subtle and pleasurable sensation of ‘warmth’, a feeling of ‘wow’ whenever I see the lights getting off slowly. And that’s exactly what he starts his TED talk with: BMW car designed in such a way that whenever the door is closed, as opposed to the lights getting on/off abruptly, it takes exactly 6 secs for the lights to get off…slowly. Exactly 6 seconds. Each time. And he goes about to deconstruct the fundamental set of feelings/responses it evokes and makes his main point. He brilliantly sums it all when he finally says ‘Form IS function’ and that, a new lens with which design has to be viewed is asking if a design is ‘emotionally functional’. This video along with these 2 key takeouts were incredibly insightful to me and set me thinking about so many brilliant things that we see, experience, feel, smell, taste etc that strike ‘that’ chord of rapport with us instantly and evoke responses and reactions that could sometimes be difficult to rationalise or codify.
On the same tangent, I discovered that there is a fast developing, parallel school of thought evolving in the world of design, something that taps into frontiers of neuroscience, behavioral economics, cognitive psychology and anthropology, neuro-marketing and neuro-linguistic programing. This is called as ‘Persuasive Design’. Though the concept of ‘emotionally functional’ design and ‘persuasive design’ can sometimes mean different things and can potentially go about serving different purposes, for me, it is clear that they all speak about very similar things: Of design speaking to our sub-conscious and making ‘that’ impact, evoking ‘that’ response/reaction in just micro seconds long before we even ask ourselves ‘why’.
A very recent example of a refreshing design is Lytro – a camera that introduces a paradigm shift in the way we look at photography.
Even for a moment, if we were to forget the fact that this magical camera enables re-focusing of photos after they have been shot, at a fundamental level, the very shape and design of this piece of optical machinery seems suddenly so commonsensical, so inuitive, and somehow evokes a ‘this-is-how-a-camera-is-supposed-to-be’ kind of response. While there is no doubt about the sheer brilliance and mastery of optics that must have gone into the conceptualisation and development of this game changing technology of ‘light field optics’, I am sure that the work that must have gone into the design/form of this piece of ‘optical magical cuboid’ could nothing be short of genius. A persuasive design example? I bet it is. Is it an example where ‘form Is the function’? I bet it is. Is it emotionally functional? Hell it is!
As cliched an example as it has become over time, Apple usually score high on these design ethos. Hence it is so refreshing to see, for a change, a horse from a different stable all set to rock the derby in the race to engage, delight and win over consumers. And perhaps also redefine an entire market on its way?