I 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.
More information on Laurie Rosenwald here.
Thanks to Piers Fawkes for a wonderful conference.
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.