Francis Smets, Limburg
There is indeed a general shift in society. People
are leaning more and more to experiences.
even feverish or adrifted drive to experiences can
be stated. The German sociologist Gerhard Schulze
already diagnosed this symptom in 1992 in "Die
Erlebnisgesellschaft". In the last resort, these
experiences are always concerned with happiness.
recently, influential American economists such as
Joseph Pine and James Gilmore from the Harvard
Business School state that one can make good money
out of this trade of experiences. According to them,
happiness constitutes an economic good by its own
and is even the key to every economic growth in the
Companies must become suppliers of happiness.
Product designers are no longer engineers, but must
imagineers of happiness. Not the material benefit
of the thing matters, but the communication. The
message has relieved the function.
This calls upon
a reflection about happiness (or unhappiness), more
precisely a profound consideration
of the relationship between product design and happiness.
The radical changes in design ("its mobility")
are not detached from the human quest for happiness.
The deep-human dream of happiness might well be the
hidden motor that propels the actual and future trend
in product development.
In his book "An der Zeitmauer" (1959)
Ernst Jünger warned already: to the extent that
the West develops its methods and products, "the
happiness takes leave" (Das Glück nimmt
Abschied). The more product designers will interfere
with our experience of happiness, the more happiness
will take leave. Development of products is directly
proportional to the increase of unhappiness. The
more, the unhappier.
On a fundamental level product
development shifts from function to dream, from need
to desire, from
the material to the immaterial. (Letís certainly
not forget the radical distinction between need and desire!).
The move to the production of dreams has been thoroughly
analysed by the Danish trend watcher Rolf Jensen
in his book "The Dream Society" (1999).
now enters a new era. A fifth type of society announces
itself. There were already hunting, agriculture
and industry. We have just had the information society,
and it is already out of date and replaced by the
next in the row: the dream society. Yet, it was only
in 1982 that another famous trend watcher, John Naisbitt,
in his book "Megatrends" stated the shift
from the "industrial society" to the "information
society". If we have to believe Jensen, from
now on and for a long time we will live in the dream
society. By "dream society", Jensen means
that the story, that is woven around the product,
will supplant the product. The "dream market" will
gradually exceed the reality market. Stories, experiences,
dreams, in short the immaterial aspect of the product
will supplant the material properties.
shifts from function to dream, from need to desire,
from the material to the immaterial.
Let me elucidate this for the actual or just passed
situation, by means of structural semantics or semiotics,
and with an example. There exists a universal semantic
model, that is applicable (or can be made suitable)
to all sorts of meanings. It is called the semiotic
The semiotic square consists of four terms with
three mutual relations.
Or A, B, Not-A and Not-B.
Horizontally the terms are connected by contrariety,
a complex relationship based on identity and difference.
Diagonally by contradiction, each others negation.
Vertically by complementarity, completing each other.
Letís now try to fill this in concretely, for instance
for cars (very material things!). The basis is formed
by the contrariety between A, utilitarian values,
and B, existential values. We can translate these
in respectively a practical and a utopian valorisation.
For a car the utilitarian values (A) are for instance
the operating guarantee, the performativity, the
steerage etc. The existential values (B) rather concern
identity, quality of life, personality. The negation
of the practical valorisation (Not-A) is the playful:
unnecessary, for fun. The critical valorisation responds
to the negation of the existential values (Not-B):
for instance paying above all attention to the price-quality
(From: Jean-Marie Floch, "Sémiotique,
marketing et communication", 1990)
The shift from function to dream, from need to desire,
from the material to the immaterial corresponds in
the semiotic square with a general move from the
left side (A and Not-B) to the right side (B and
Not-A). As well, the existential as the playful values
are concerned with happiness. They represent experiences
of happiness. "Life" means a "good
life". And play is an "oasis of happiness",
as the German philosopher Eugen Fink describes it
so beautifully ("Oase des Glücks",
Perspicacious producers take this up. Even BMW,
the type of the performing car (practical valorisation)
advertises nowadays with slogans like "The more
detours, the better" (playful valorisation)
or even literally: "technique is senseless if
it doesn't make you happier" (existential valorisation).
Very material engines promise something very immaterial.
The immaterial qualities, related to happiness, are
emphasised. Thatís why products become/became high-semiotic.
Itís this promise that matters today, with the consumer
in feverish quest for happiness. Of course, BMW doesnít
sell happiness in a box, or detours, for instance,
cruises on the Lüneburger Heide. But who then
can sell cruises on the Lüneburger Heide? This
brings me to the second part of my exposure.