Desire (Design and Democracy)

I think the current Privacy/We-blog seminar (see blog) is turning out very well. The students are working on a project that is very “web2.0-ish” and a profound reflection on the business models that drive this market (or new bubble if you will).

One of the questions that constantly return to me is what is the function if design as seen from strategists. There is a discourse about design is being in charge of providing “emotional value” to products – or in other words: to sense desires of consumers.

I have addressed the core strategies of design in several seminars. They were called: Perception, Mind (called “Remembering and Design” back then), Density, Simplicity and Continuity. And it always appered to me that I one day I will have to address the topic of »Desire«.

The problem with “desire” is that it appears to be a mainstream topic – but in fact is not. It is a pandora’s box and it will ultimatley lead to political implications of design. And that is probably why I postponed it several times although I am totally convinced that there is no real way to get around this issue.

One place to start is Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays invented the term “public relations” and spawned research that led to the idea of “life style” and “focus groups”. His influence has been portrayed in this four hour BBC documentary “The Century of the Self” (Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4). If you watch that documentary you’ll see the dilemma.

The documentary ends with the impression that the affirmative politicians in western societies have eroded the notion of democracy by replacing political policy with public relations (thus tuning their speeches and programs towards the short term desires of swing voters). Like Bill Clinton has asked one of his advisors: “What is a mandate if you can’t get elected with it?”

I want to point readers, that managed read this post until here, to a document called “Design and democracy” [PDF, 148 KB / german], a lecture given by Gui Bonsiepe in 2005 at the UTEM, Santiago de Chile (and be assured that the issue of democracy is not only a matter of desinging better election ballots).





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