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style manifesto 2014


The Battle for Reality in the Experience Economy:
Set Design V Interior Design:
If the number of seminars is to be believed, awareness of the Experience Economy is growing
sharply and along with this an increasing concern about how we might design for it. One of the
key tenets of the Experience Economy is the notion of staging consumer experiences. Gilmore
& Pine, who coined the term, make many comparisons to theatre indeed Joseph Pine made this
explicit in an article of 2008, stating that architects need to design like set designers. In
addition, business thinkers such as Tom Roberts have talked about how businesses even
service businesses need to embrace what he refers to as the Dream Economy. Over-adjusted to
reality, perhaps and already plentifully supplied with choice when it comes to basic goods and
services - customers are crying out for fairy-dust for leisure, retail, entertainment and even
services as a form of non-mundane experience.
Ideological Car Crash! Design v Theatre
This new focus on the theatrical and dream-like raises quite a problem, however, when it comes
to design and in fact the more you know about design training the more you realise what an
ideological car-crash this could be! Barring perhaps theme-pub designers, interior architects are
mostly hugely resistant to the idea of theatre! Most architects and architecturally-trained
designers would be horrified by the idea of treating design as a set it goes against modernist
notions of truth to materials (and to eras). In set design, the intention is not to design this world
but to transport the audience to a different world. Elements exist in set design largely as a prop
or backdrop or representation - they do not need to be real, functioning or truthful;
furthermore, they can also be suggestive or sur-real, since again the aim is to transport the
audience. And in fact the bashing of the theatrical is not exclusive to architecture even theatre
practitioners themselves have tried to dismantle the Wagnerian notion of theatre as total-
artwork or, perhaps, total-escapism.
style manifesto 2014
Theatrical Exaggeration v Interior Design Close-Ups
On a pragmatic level too, and because of the distance between stage and audience (even in the
round), elements are often exaggerated in theatre and the overall effect heavily dependent on
lighting. Of course lighting is also crucial in interior design - but it tends to be more dramatic,
and less functional, in theatre. In fact the difference between theatrical design and interior
design is not dissimilar to the difference between theatre and film: because stage actors are at a
distance, stage make-up, acting style and even facial expressions are exaggerated, whereas in
film the use of close-up demands more realism and subtlety. And just as interior designers may
balk at designing sets, set design itself can only partially translate to, for example, a retail
environment: the immersion of the audience - here the customers - within the set radically
changes spatial relations; things must function; lighting must be subtler. In fact theme
designers all too often looked down on, but uniquely positioned between interior and set
design - will have an advantage, though they may need to apply their thinking to a much
broader demographic.
Hybrid Design Models
This presents an interesting problem, with an economic and cultural shift coming directly into
conflict with design training. Increasingly, the Experience Economy will call for new and hybrid
models of design - conventional, modernist-driven design training may no longer fit the bill. Our
sense is that design will need to re-engage with alternative design approaches that were, at the
time, dismissed as passing fads (I am thinking primarily of postmodernism, which took a much
less reverential approach to notions of reality) - but also to draw on techniques from Visual
Merchandising and styling all of which are usually dismissed in design as lowbrow. Style
Manifesto has long believed these boundaries need to come down. We continue to think through
this and, in our next paper, will look at another dichotomy that needs to be undone that is, the
difference between the notions of styling and design.