Noise

Laurie_rosenwaldI spent the day at the PSFK conference in New York City.  I fell into conversation with Noah Brier and Mark Lewis about how important it is to have noise in the signal, noise in the brand, noise in the corporation. 

If once the meaning managers of the corporation hoped for perfect clarity, now they know that clarity is a problem, a barrier, and a failure.  Clarity leaves no room for consumer cocreation, the complexities of a Cate Blanchett (see post below), and the nuance on which great branding now depends.

So what a pleasure later in the day to hear Laurie Rosenwald talk about her design work.  Rosenwald is a devotee of noise.  She regaled us with the importance of accident.  One of her headings: "how to make mistakes on purpose."  She collects stray materials and waits for them to insinuate themselves into a cover design or editorial art.  Rosenwald harvests noise.

There are cultural origins here.  The Fluxus movement was deeply interested in accident.  The beat poets told  Allan Ginsberg that his poetry was too well formed.  The Talking Heads advised us to Stop Making Sense. 

But things got, I thought, even more interesting when Rosenwald talked about her life as a commercial artist.  (In fact, Rosenwald calls herself the world’s "most commercial artist.")   Being a commercial artist, she says, is like living an argument. Commercial and cultural impulses are now longer defined at cross purposes, but they still ride up against one another.  This makes some people cut and run.  But the rest stay to experience and harvest the noise within. 

I found myself thinking that some of the most interesting people these days are hybrids.  In fact, it’s relatively easy to be one thing.  In fact, we got pretty good at being one thing.  These days, the trick is to be several things.  This is more difficult, but I think Rosenwald is right to say that it gives us access to new creative powers.  Selves used to be declaried unfit for habitation when  filled with diversity, accident, and noise.  But these are now the signatures of someone well defined.  Hybrid selves are good to live.  Good and noisy.

References

More information on Laurie Rosenwald here.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Piers Fawkes for a wonderful conference.

Unsolicited advice

If you have a chance to hear Kevin Slavin of area/code talk about his work in the area of game design, run, don’t walk, to listen to him.  Wonderful.  More on area/code here

4 thoughts on “Noise”

  1. Very provocative post, to someone trained in information design, where the mantra is, “reduce noise between sender and receiver”. But are we talking about the same kind of noise, really? There’s noise: unintended disruption of message by forces outside our control, vs. noise: intentional fuzziness or twisting of the message to actually reinforce it. Maybe noise is the wrong word?

  2. “[S]ome of the most interesting people these days are hybrids.”

    Surely us self-conscious humans have always been complex and multi-faceted, at least to the extent that our cultural and social environment is rich and varied?

    Whether, where and when we *perform* that complexity is another question. To show what is inside is a vunerable, risky business. Our complexity may or may not be esteemed by particular others; quite naturally, we may or may not allow those others to witness it.

    The constant interplay between our Inner and Outer selves is patterned by our evolving culture. In a way, then, culture can be understood in this context as “performance practice” for our mysteriously and ultimately unknowable selves.

  3. I think clarity is becoming more important for consumer brands as the envirionment becomes more cluttered and attention and memory more scarce. Even GEICO, with its multiple ad campaigns, has hammered home its true brand identity–“Fifteen minutes can save you $500 on your car insurance” and we’re for smart people with a good sense of humor. Or look at AFLAAC, which used one of the clearest and most successful awareness campaigns I can remember to pin down exactly what it does and why you should pay for it. In a world where we are constantly being bombarded by stimuli, with everyone tugging at our sleeves for our attention, such clarity and memorability is extremely valuable.

    Vague brands are hard to remember, and the reason why you’re supposed to pay for them is hard to remember. It’s not as bad a problem with a product that has a distinctive appearance, like a car, because potential buyers may just remember what it looks like even if the meanings and functions associated with it get noisy. But for anything without such a sensory hook, I would not advise deliberately generating noise around its basic value proposition, whether tha proposiition be function, appearance, or meaning/identity enhancement.

Comments are closed.