Monday, July 4, 2011


I was in London the other day, at the New Designer's exhibition in Islington. It was held at the Business Design Centre, which has a wonderful arching roof like a Victorian railway station. There were hundreds of exhibitors, all designers exploring the boundaries of what is possible, using processes whose limits are not fully understood.

My good friend's exhibit included a beautiful red bowl, made from material squeezed out from a special machine called an extruder. If you can imagine a giant toothpaste tube being squeezed, and the contents being teased into a large bowl-shape before the material dries, then you have the idea. No one has done this before, so the product has the great attraction of the new, combined with tremendous aesthetic appeal.

She told me about other ideas that have been explored. They had traced the journey from Manchester to Milan on a map, and then programmed the shape into a computerised 3-dimensional printing machine, which can build up a 3-D structure in layers. What they discovered was that information (here in the form of map information) has a definite aesthetic feeling about it when transformed into another medium. The road from Manchester to Milan will have its own special shape, as will all journeys.

As I listened, many psychological parallels struck me. Our intuitive response to experiences, for example, rely on receiving a great mass of sense information, and then somehow processing it into a whole result which gives us a gut feeling in our stomach. For example, music can be written as a complex web of information; but the resulting song can have a recognizable identity all of its own. So that when we play a song, we are immediately taken to an emotional place which we recognize.

I would go further, and say that emotion acts as a mediator between the raw information and the intuitive response. This allows us, through feelings, to deal with masses of information all at once. So, for example, we can tell if a situation feels right, just by being there for a few seconds. We do not know what information we are processing, but we are aware of the emotional result. Music, fashion, and most art work on this level - without an emotional response, we might as well not bother with art. Everything has a mood, and that mood is what we use to organize our response. Without it, we have no sense of preference or priority.

But the response, to be effectively organized, has to be within normative limits. When our sensitivity is too high, for instance, we react to everything with extremes of fear, apprehension or suspicion. This is the world of phobia and paranoia, where our past experience has conditioned us to be so alert that we lose all proportion. In emotional situations of this kind, our friends often suggest to us that we get some distance, to regain a sense of proportion, of balance.

As we sat outside on the pavement, watching the Islington crowds go by, it was a chance to recharge the spiritual batteries, and to recalibrate the emotional sensors. When life becomes very dramatic, it is easy to forget proportion, easy to react with fear and distrust of the world. But by exploring together, by trying out new techniques, by trial and error, and by comparing notes with our friends, we can rediscover a sense of proportion and beauty. Instead of being reactive and afraid, our intuition returns to harmony with the information around us. And we can then drop our excess fear, rediscover our inner peace, and find comfort again in those closest to us.