Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 7#3/4 Norbert Bolz 1 Jan 1994

The Meaning of Surface

Traditional industrial design is falling apart.

Now that the digital revolution is turning everything into surface and the things with which we interact are becoming increasingly immaterial and turning into black boxes, not only do established criteria lose their validity for users, they also become invalid for designers. Norbert Bolz describes how the strategy of emotional design is employed to endow objects with the illusion of feeling and profundity.


The Meaning of Surface -

A designer's most important task consists of the spiritual and intuitive absorption of technology by means of the aesthetic shaping of its surface. The so-called user-surface is that part of an apparatus, presented as a programme, with which persons using it come
into contact. The computer simulation which draws up such interfaces in the design process does not therefore primarily refer to the technical object but to the user; product-forms are treated as life-forms. This means, however, that the simulation of the
design of hardware is software-oriented. The digital aesthetics of the design process is therefore aimed at bridging the gap documented by the aloof, unreadable operating instructions of our equipment. Nowadays it is a matter of optimising the
intersection technology-man. For this we need an intelligent design i.e. a design of objects the use of which is self-explanatory.

When a Microsoft manager boasts at the cebit 93 computer fair that with the paper used for all the ms-dos manuals distributed world-wide one can pave the way to the moon twenty times over, this pride in the phenomenal sales success is naive, as the figure
also brings home in an alarming manner how very far removed our top-level technology is from intelligent design. Manuals, instructions and handbooks should some day belong to the past. And in order to approach this aim it is necessary for us to analyse
the rhetoric of technology, for which we need a new science of design.

Design of the future is faced with two highly-complex basic problems which can be reduced to the concepts of interoperability and micrologisation. Interoperability describes the vast co-operation process of a multitude of production units in a joint project.
For example: more than 6,000 firms must work together to build the Advanced Tactical Fighter for the Air Force. No human brain is able to imagine such a complex planning and production process. Only computers are in a position to calculate this context.
And if an immense number of firms are working on one and the same project, as for example in aviation or space travel, this is called Concurrent Engineering. This involves co-ordinating communication and production processes occurring in different
places at different times. This is the macro design problem: wide-scale interlaced design processes.

The second highly-complex basic problem shows up at the other end of the design scale: in the designing of objects on the threshold of immateriality. The equipment of our everyday life is becoming increasingly smaller and more intelligent. There is
hardly any basic commodity left in which there is no chip installed. This continually progressing micrologisation and electronisation of things is changing almost everything man deals with into black boxes, or something we use every day without
understanding how it works:

- As early as 1888 the Kodak company used as an advertisement: You press the button - we do the rest! Since then taking photographs has meant nothing more than 'clicking'. You look through the viewfinder and press the button
- that's how easy it is. Only a few specialists actually know what is happening in this apparatus.

- We have 25 driving lessons and then we can drive a car. Yet the car remains a black box; what is happening under the car bonnet is a mystery to most of us. And if the car suddenly stops on the motorway we call the automobile club.

- The personal computer, which we reluctantly purchased a few years ago, is a mysterious box which we should better leave closed. To be opened only by an expert! is often to be read on the back of electronic equipment. We merely press the power on'' button and then follow the software instructions. Only freaks dare to enter the inside of the black box armed with screwdriver and soldering iron.

New Science of Design

We must therefore increasingly be an expert at something without understanding it. All the more important is the design of the user- surface which is the only means left for bringing light to the darkness of the black box. This is also called interface-design.
Design's task is shifting away from tangible objects to the immaterial, invisible, medial. The design of the intersection of telecommunication, new media and computer technologies is therefore the most important structural task of our day. For this we
need a new science of design which examines the problems of a communication-centred use of technology. This new science of design must not see research as subsequent to theory but must define its task as marketing prior to the product. Only in this way
can it be a match for an economy which appears increasingly soft and immaterial. Designer Otl Aicher saw this correctly in his Designanalyse (Design Analysis) of Germany in 1990: //Lufthansa and Mercedes-Benz no longer mean performance but are
information terms. The theatre is reality.'' With this the economy is responding to a radically changed landscape of consumption. To use a phrase: communication is competing with consumption. Those wanting to maintain their hold on the market must
stamp consumption forms of communicative pleasure.

In his book Liberation Management, Tom Peters bids us to no longer read so much about business but more novels. And in fact: those wanting to know something about the form and design of the future can learn more from the stories of, say, Douglas
Coupland or Bret Easton Ellis than from the fortune-telling of Alvin Toffler and Tom Peters. Let us take Ellis' latest novel as an example. American Psycho is the story of a very young, highly successful and attractive Wall Street broker who masters all the
superficial effects of the post-modern world. He knows how money flows, how to keep fit, which mineral water goes with which meal, which New York restaurant is in right now. Patrick Bateman is the personified wish fulfilment of magazines like Vogue;
he is able to hold forth for hours on the subject of clothing. As soon as he encounters another person, his designer? glance sizes him up meticulously; the other person then appears as a cluster of trademarks, a pattern of secondary sexual characteristics.

Patrick Bateman is therefore the master of the surface. But then at night he does search for depth, and by means of drills he penetrates into female bodies, a part of the novel? action which we would prefer to let rest at this point. However let us listen to
what author Bret Easton Ellis has to say about the desert landscape of western civilisation: ''Sex is mathematics. Individuality no longer an issue. What does intelligence signify? Define reason. Desire - meaningless. Intellect is not a cure. Justice is dead. Fear,
recrimination, innocence, sympathy, guilt, waste, failure, grief, were things, emotions, that no one really felt anymore. Reflection is useless, the world is senseless. Evil is its only permanence. God is not alive. Love cannot be trusted. Surface, surface, surface
was all that anyone found meaning in ... ''Of course: it is not possible to live in this desert landscape of the real. That is why we have the media and fashions, the strategies of design and the techniques of simulation.

Stable Illusion

Let us look back briefly at this point to the anthropology of the modern age. Friedrich Nietzsche cunningly asked how much truth man can endure. Behind this question is the suspicion that man really hates truth. In other words: we love being deceived. It was
in this sense that Blaise Pascal, the second great philosopher of the 17th century after Descartes, claims that life is nothing but a stable illusion. Human behaviour is as such cheated and deluded - this thesis is common to the moralistic tradition stretching as
far as Nietzsche.

In the psychology of appearance-forming powers, self-love plays a key role; we are being deceived by the pleasure of the ego. 250 years later the psycho-analysis in Freud? narcissism theory makes this wisdom scientifically acceptable. Only one thing is
important in our context: we are not content with our existence and want to appear more and different to what we are. Pascal distinguishes here very concisely between our actual being and our public image. This public image is an imaginary being on
which we are continually working.

Over 300 years ago Pascal therefore had a well drawn up psychology of the appearance-forming powers: fantasy, habit, diversion and self-love. Turned outwards they are, as desire, will for power and ignorance, the great factors of the human element. Pascal's
basic thought is now: only the social order of appearance, the socially charitable delusory images of the imagination, disguise the abyss of hatred. Mark you: this evil secret of mankind cannot be overcome by human orders, only concealed. But we owe our
survival only to the disguising of evil. The social orders and institutions may be objects of delusion, yet these false images protect
us from the lethal truth of mankind.

It can therefore not be a matter of crushing the socially necessary appearance but simply of gaining a level-headed stance to appearance. Pascal speaks here of a raison des effets, a reason of effects and consequences. What is meant is: the whole world is
embroiled in deceptive appearance - and yet people's opinions are healthy. People 'have' truth, but it is not where they believe truth to be. The gossip from the local pub is superficial - but the people are not aware of how right they are!

Sören Kierkegaard, an ascetic Protestant of the 19th century, once said, He who lives aesthetically expects everything to come from outside. That was of course meant in a cruelly critical manner, yet - without any assessment - it simply applies. Nowadays
everything comes from outside, and all that remains for us is choice - selection. The English verb 'to elect' still has a ring of the aesthetic connection. (S)election is the secret of elegance. And at this point I would just like to note in brackets that there is not
only an etymological connection between selection, elegance and elite, but also a material one. So small is the step from the ordinariness of consumption into the high world of design. Design is namely the selection of elegant effects. In concrete terms it
functions as the principle of selection in the differentiation of the world of goods. And that which contributes the emotional element to the thing is the general reorientation of design from a higher art of packaging to animation. How could this come

The Digital Revolution

Our environment has changed structurally. Virtual Reality, Telepresence and Cyberspace are technologies of a visualisation of the immaterial and non-present. Immaterial enjoyment is taking a hold. It is no longer a matter of purpose and function, but of
experience and emotion. In post-modern culture one is virtually socially committed to being an individual, to cultivating one's 'proper time' and to sounding the depth of one's own subjectivity by intensification of experience. It is no longer possible to meet
such needs and expectations by means of conventional basic commodities. That which is to gain attention nowadays on the market must be spiritually enriched - be it with 'smart' chips, or with Emotional Design. The post-modern market is geared to a
cerebralised consumption (Arnold Gehlen).

This radical change in the landscape of consumption is due to the digital revolution. In the design of micro-electronic black boxes, the form can no longer be determined by the function. Rational form criteria no longer exist. At this point we can therefore
provide the first interim result: Emotional Design suppresses form in the sense of 'form follows function'. We no longer believe that form follows function but we develop a more flexible and more discriminating concept: design is the entity of the difference
between form and function. The design of the immaterial can no longer be developed 'materially'. This necessary turning away from material designs also corresponds to the insights of recent biology which no longer recounts life's history in concepts of use,
advantage and necessity, but sees every culture stamped by the configuration of its wishes. It is not reason but feelings which determine our action. According to a formulation by Humberto Maturana, the most important contemporary neurobiologist,
human life takes place in a flowing emotional dynamism.

And it is just this dynamism which material design has never done justice to. Nowadays there is in addition the previously mentioned technical fact that micro-electronics cannot be designed according to its function. I would therefore like to claim in general: since we have to live with black boxes, we are faced for the first time in a radical sense with the question of meaning. Now the form of the user surface is all the more important as it's the only means left for bringing light to the darkness of the black box.
Design's task is shifting away from materiality towards the immaterial, invisible, medial. Digitalisation has unfolded world data on a single gigantic surface. The digital iron presses things into depthless information.

All the more urgent is the question of criteria of quality. New non-material consumption is oriented to intangibles which show the sense of understanding products no longer as things but as personalities. It is not a matter for the taste buds whether one
drinks Pepsi or Coca Cola but of the view of life offered by the video clip. Emotional Design provides patterns with which the consumer can model his feelings - just as Hollywood films have been doing for years. Design shapes experiences in the medium
of consumption. It is no longer basic commodities which are being designed but relating patterns.

For some time now consumption has therefore had nothing to do with satisfaction of need but it has become the medium of that which Oscar Wilde called self-culture. This is the only way to explain the characteristic features of post-modern consumer
behaviour. For years now it has been possible to observe a dual coding of consumption: the price-conscious discount buying of basic foodstuffs and, at the same time, emotionally-charged boutique purchasing with no set price limit. There is simply no
rational relationship between the money I saved a short time ago at Aldi's discount store and that which I have just uncomplainingly placed on the counter for a blazer by Armani. Consumption takes place at various levels for one and the same
person. This causes consumption to become reflexive i.e. it refers to itself: we do not only consume goods but we also consume consuming - just as we also enjoy enjoying! This can go as far as becoming ironic: you go to McDonald's in order to enjoy that dual coding of consumption. Ironic consumption is perhaps even the most refined means of self-culture.

Consumption independent of need is the final sanctuary of emotional experience. Feelings are indeed nothing more than self-interpretations of the psychic system. According to the definition of brain researcher Karl Pribram: ''internal adjustments are
felt as emotions. ''Feelings therefore signalise achievements of adaptation. This is the new scene of economic competition: design
is no longer aiming at awareness but at its immune system: feelings. In the ancient world, on the threshold of occidental
civilisation, feelings did not arise spontaneously in man but they were impressed on him by the gods. Nowadays we could make
an analogous observation: they are impressed on us by goods.


Design theoreticians, if they existed, would have to set to work reinterpreting old critical vocabulary such as 'esthetics of commodities'and culture industry' i.e. essentially: releasing them from their negative omens. Culture is an industry, aesthetics is the theory of designed goods, and the only way left for selling goods is by using aesthetics. We have therefore reached a stage of de-evilising commodity fetishism. We must understand one thing: feelings do not apply to persons but to things. In the material world of modern civilisation, emotions reach a void. It could be stated: we live in a vacuum of great feelings. And this is where post-modern consumption comes in. Emotional Design attends to the transfer of 'interhuman'values into the world of things. And since the revolution of Pop Art we know: feelings do not have their true intensity in life but in the cinema and in consumption. That is how Andy Warhol puts it in all desirable clarity: The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it's like watching television - you don't feel anything. Indeed Karl Kraus had mocked that sleeping with a woman was only a bad substitute for masturbation.

Two thousand five hundred years of occidental cultural history and only one reality? We are not satisfied with that nowadays. The point is: those who really want to experience something no longer search for this experience in empirical reality but in virtual reality; it is malleable and less susceptible to interference. And those who want to experience deep feelings go to the cinema. The children of the pop culture know nowadays that feelings of love and hate are more real in the movie theatre than in their own bedroom. And Emotional Design operates in just the same way as the cinema: it presents the product as an erotic experience with which human stimuli can no longer compete. Cinema and experience-consumption immerse us into a world of virtual events - anything else, namely reality, is too dangerous. Post-modern advertising is objectless arousal! When an average American child reaches the age of 18 he has seen 350,000 commercials.

Benetton's advertising campaign has used documentary photographs for the purposes of advertising. Three things can be learnt from this:

- the important consumer generation of the 10-18-year-olds knows media reality only in its hybrid form of fictive facts and fact-supported fictions.

- advertising and information can hardly be distinguished any more. And in fact the so-called 'infomercials' are gaining ground! Just take a look into a computer magazine. Firstly, it is only with difficulty that 'independent' edp magazines can be distinguished
from firm-controlled ones. And secondly: who can still note a difference between the 'informative' advertisement of the latest notebook and its editorial depiction on the next page?

- advertising takes care of the big topics which are not tackled by politics: aids, world hunger, overpopulation, xenophobia. 'Socially responsible' advertising and the attracting of 'aware, active' consumers are two sides of the same marketing strategy. Design has always extended advertising into the product. Nowadays modern marketing extends advertising into the moral conscience of the consumer.

Ron Sommer, European President of Sony, once put it rather well: A saturated market is not a stroke of fate but at most the result of an unimaginative management. With saturated markets, qualitative product equality and self-explanatory products, rational
information on that which is to be sold has no meaning for advertising. The utility value is, as it were, taken for granted. Therefore only prestige and experience remain as advertising values and purchasing motives. New marketing has responded to this need for prestige with the strategy of depicting consumption as the liberal, non-bloody form of earning recognition: Shock your neighbour! - with the new Rover. And the department stores have responded to this thirst for experience with a radical trading-up process. They are no longer temples of commodity but worlds of experience. This is corresponded to on the part of the manufacturers by a self-stylisation aimed at stamping the range of products with the unmistakableness of a personality. A psycho-analyst might say: Corporate Identity is the reflecting-stage of the market. The more a company diversifies and the wider the spectrum of its range becomes, the more urgent becomes its need for a stabilising, orienting image of its entity - not only for the customers but also for its own personnel. Corporate Identity defines a stable scheme, within which a company can attract the attention of the market by means of continuously new product samples. And ci becomes all the more important the more the economy as a whole changes into a kaleidoscope.

Advertising as Religion

The new commercials for the Volkswagen Passat present a completely cerebral product: the new car is engineered to recharge the human spirit. When you drive the new Passat you recharge your spiritual battery. The spiritual index of a product is aimed at
making it stand out against qualitatively equivalent competitive products, and at the same time at overcoming the suspicion that it could be useless and superfluous. Advertising now penetrates into the realm of transcendence. Advertising takes on the function of religion. It develops the spirituality of consumption. For how is it possible to mark a difference in the flood of images in television advertising? Leslie Savan makes an interesting observation when he says it is now a matter of advertising burning holy
holes in the screen. Consumption loses its bad conscience when it succeeds in stylising the act of shopping as a form of prayer. The ideal of marketing is religious icon-worship.

It is no longer easy to sell to customers treated as rationally acting beings. But the reverse can also easily finish up a blind alley: the attempt at operating their feelings. For an observer (producer/designer) can say nothing about the inner state of the other
(consumer) - only about the surface of his behaviour. L.E.J. Brouwer summed it up nicely: By so-called exchange with another being, the subject only touches the outer walls of an automaton. Whereas one believes a relationship of interhuman exchange
exists with another person, one is, in reality, only touching the outside wall of an automaton. It therefore no longer suffices to treat the customer as king. The customer is a god - he can only be outwitted by serving him. Marketing is worship of the customer - he must be tempted by means of fetishes, embroiled in product-love. The Cargo-Cult is therefore the prime model of the trademark experience.

At the beginning of the century, Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti scandalised the world of culture with a remark in which he stated that a racing car was more beautiful that the Nike of Samothrace. The excitement has calmed down. Probably nowadays the
majority of the population would agree with Marinetti? scandalous statement. We could perhaps even extend this: a Nike trainer is also more beautiful than the Nike of Samothrace! For a long time now such basic commodities have been granted a kind of
cultic adoration. One goes on a pilgrimage to 'Niketown' in Chicago - the sports shop as the church with icons which are worshipped. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley are the high priests.

If the decision to purchase is no longer determined by functional-rational considerations, then the question is: why this and not that? Why am I walking with Air Max instead of on Planet Reebok? The decision to purchase responds to the stimulus of the new.
And yet: not everything which is new is stimulating! What is therefore decisive for a purchase success is: Draw a distinction that makes a difference! The logic of our market economy is often sacrificed for this difference. Just as we are told in a car
advertisement: ''This is not a car for just anyone - but perhaps for you? Exclusivity here becomes an inept advertising trick, for there is not, of course, any person-related discrimination in spending money. Yet it is just such failed advertisements which show
that design is the technique of the difference which counts. All marketing experts who, as heirs to the New Age movement, nowadays place a stake on the spirituality of consumption, should bear this in mind. The spirit of New Age is as deceptive as the
spirit of idealism 200 years ago. What we need in future is the new spirituality of the difference. The design of the difference operates as selection from a repertoire. And nowadays this repertoire is greater than ever. Henry Ford's old, wicked pearl of wisdom
History is bunk has namely an exciting second meaning: nowadays the whole of history serves us as a repertoire of stylish selection. It can also be named post-histoire: the citeability of all times. No-one has formulated it more clearly than Mick Jagger:
Rock 'n Roll is only recycled past! Today even historical time has been ironed out into the surface.

Advertising frees itself from the product and becomes self-relating: a car is not a vehicle of movement but the medium of a new experience of driving: Mondeo. A Stuyvesant is not simply a cigarette you smoke - it is a medium of world communication: Come
together. One no longer simply dresses, but enters world society: The United Colors of Benetton. And red is not a colour in the spectrum, but Marlboro. And so on. Does Leo Burnett deserve a memorial? Over 20 years ago he made Marlboro the best-sold
cigarette in the world due to his advertising metonymy Freedom and Adventure. What is metonymical advertising? Translating literally it would be an advertisement which interchanges names - in this case the trademark Marlboro and the idea-name
freedom. Leo Burnett has therefore discovered a metonymical conveyance: cowboys/extensive country - freedom/adventure - red /Marlboro. A release from the product is of course particularly important in cigarette advertising: if displaying cigarettes is once banned, the colour of freedom must suffice on the posters to conjure up the trademark. We can therefore learn the following from Leo Burnett about Emotional Design: trademarks take on ideas in order to finally replace them! Post-modern marketing needs the packaging artists of the spirit.

Emotional Design makes use of the power of metonymy so as to take on ideas by trademarks. Nowadays the order of ideas is just about good enough to differentiate trademarks. It is therefore possible to keep hold of the ideas without thinking - it is only
necessary to buy. This is the meaning of Andy Warhol? splendid statement: Buying is much more American than thinking. Arnulf Rainer had understood that very well when he said: understanding a work of art means buying it! Truth and commodity
are the same. We have learnt from post-modern society that art is a business. We must now learn from post-material society that business is an art: Business Art in the sense of Andy Warhol. That is the true end of art:'' Business art is the step that comes after
Art...Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.''


InJenseits von Gut und Böse (Beyond Good and Evil), Nietzsche pronounces a Cultus of the superficial. Why are there such people as artists and dedicated followers of fashion who worship pure forms? Nietzsche says: He who has looked deep into the world can guess the wisdom there is in man being so superficial. It is his preserving instinct which teaches him to be cursory, superficial and false. Our pleasant civilised life demands social surfaces without depth: convention, politeness, ceremonial. We still have a lot to learn from the Japanese whose culture indeed draws life's energy from purely formal differences and assessments. In principle it is a matter of reconciliation with civilisation itself. And Max Bense, the aesthetician speaks without any critical undertone of the skin effect of civilisation, bringing everything to the top, to the outside, making the surfaces important.

Nietzsche called culture a thin apple skin over glowing chaos. It is therefore a matter of justifying appearance without becoming a slave to it. This wisdom was summed up by John le Carré, one of the last authorities on secrets and delusions of social life, in a
concise dialogue in his novel'' A Small Town in Germany:

- Haven't you realised that only appearances matter?
- It's not true! You can't be so tied to the surface of things.
- What else is there when the underneath is rotten? Break the surface and we sink. I'm a great believer in hypocrisy. It's the nearest we ever get to virtue. I serve the appearance of things.''
Le Carré has therefore learnt the Nietzsche lesson which goes: he
who knows how to live is superficial from the depths!

Design on large surfaces, worship forms! That is something one can learn from the ancient Greeks as well as from the new media: photography, film and above all, of course, video, cling to the surfaces of the world and play with the skin effects of civilisation.
The original phenomenon of these aesthetics of surface is the video-clip. Here the sense of superiority of German depth can learn a lot from European-American superficiality. One of the few who had learnt Nietzsches lesson was Gottfried Benn. He coined the
unbeatable formula for artistry:// Nothing, but covered in icing! //Rational recognition always goes into the depth of being - it misses the sense of the surface. It is not without reason that we speak of fine feeling! Who actually says that depth is more
important than the superficial? The Ultra Consumers thoroughly do away with this prejudice. They practise shopping as a way of life and personify the decay of ideologies, of Great Stories and views of life. Their identities change in the superficial artistry of
consumption and the kaleidoscopy of the new media.

Man responds to the stimuli of the surfaces; and surface stimulation is our only source of information. Temptation is a surface effect. This is seen in the irresistible interaction of women, fashion and sex-appeal. The female element is, seen from the view of the designer, nothing more than the indistinguishability of surface and depth. Let us recall that cosmos really means order of beauty. The specifically female connection to the cosmos is cosmetics - the order of beauty on the surface of the skin. This is the
dimension of advertising, fashion and temptation. The greatest depth is the skin, as the poet Paul Valéry put it. Every number of Vogue creates a cosmos from beautiful skin. As a Narcissus, man should imagine himself as a happy human - being consumed by
the surface of his own image. And he is right: the secrets are not in the depths but on the surface; the world is a picture puzzle.

The modern age was the mistrust of the senses. Nowadays the depthless surfaces teach us to trust our senses again. Modern recognition went into depth, was unmasking, tearing up the evil of appearance - nowadays we are looking for the sense of the surface and on the surface. In Michel Tournier's novel Venvredi, ou des limbes du Pacifique we are asked what sort of curious partisanship it is which blindly overrates the depths at the price of the surface and wants superficial not to mean of further expanse but of less depth, whereas deep, on the other hand, means of great depth and not of little surface. Yet a feeling like that of love is measured far better according to the meaning of its surface than of its degree of depth. The superficiality of things is
more important than their being. That is why we are changing our style of world perception: instead of penetrating to the depths, we are surfing on the crests of waves, and designers are the surfers of the Zeitgeist.

translation ann thursfield