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Metamodern Design : Chapter 9 – MMXD Metamodern Experience Design

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Design recognizes patterns within society and builds upon successful patterns or strives to fix and improve patterns that may be broken. The idea of metamodernism in design is simultaneously looking at successful patterns and allowing the broken patterns to intentional create a sense of dissonance in our work. This intentional effort allows our work to be disruptive through intention and to exist as a new format of an experience where the audience not only experiences design, but they must also take on forms of design thinking within their own consciousness. We respect the audience as much as to allow them to make decisions beyond the old-world way of “knowing better” than them.

Steve Jobs had it right, during his time. To create work where he knew better than others and fought endlessly to create from that perspective. However, with the current landscape of global connectedness, because of his work (and Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, Bezos, etc). Our humanity now exists in a space of “what’s next?” So as the evolution of design becomes a commodity to continue sustaining companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc who have profited off of the global connectedness, we find that many people feel isolated, alone, lost and wandering in their own sense of meaning and purpose. Therefore, our future efforts of design, recognized by this global oscillating pattern of sincerity and irony (defined as Metamodernism) seeks to create a further sense of self through recognizing and reframing the traditional patterns. Where we provide others the opportunity to feel a sense of discomfort and tension within the safety and security of their experiences, only to determine for themselves what the meaning and purpose of it all is – for them. Not us. Not Steve Jobs. We shift into a future outlook of design being intentional about the audience holding their own conclusions while we create new emotional platforms and experiences for them to sort through.

Recognizing patterns of this feeling in the arts, entertainment, music, politics, religion, global economics and more.

If we seek to intentionally create these new emotional platforms for our audience, I have defined a few key points to consider as a designer. Those exist currently as the below list, and may evolve, change, or be revised over time. But for now, this is where I see the opportunities of a designer leaning into the future of designing experiences with the intentional oscillation of both modernism and post-modernism.

Audience-centered narrative

Formulating the output of work, and also the intention of work from beginning of the process to end result as a consistent and conscious effort to focus solely on the needs of the audience. Where the intention is not based on what the Designer or business believes to be true, but to seek to explore and uncover the needs and desires of their audience and reflect this back to them in a compelling and creative way.

Unexpected vulnerability

Opportunities emerge to allow the intentional efforts on behalf of the audience to reflect vulnerability of the business and brand. What once was seen as a modernist protective environment within corporate culture will shift to a space of also allowing the weaknesses to be a place of conversation. Where the weaknesses come out of hiding, stop being swept under the corporate carpet and surface in true honesty. Not with the intention of selling a product, but to create new conversations because the old dialogue between business and customer is worn out – in both the modern and post-modern rhetoric. So we seek to explore and discover, intentionally, unexpected vulnerabilities that may emerge from both the business and the customer to create a new sense of belief, belonging and meaning within our work.

Meta-Interactive Design

Two forms of experience

Where we merge the intentional efforts we aspire from our users, customers, audience and boldly become self-aware of what our goals are. We blatantly and obviously profess these goals in a modernist approach while allowing the self-awareness of our own ambitions to come through in an ironic tone. The experience creates a new sensibility for our audience and allows them to decide how they should feel about the brand. “We are trying to sell you something and we aren’t trying to be sneaky, clever or witty about it. We just want you to clearly by this thing and if you don’t that’s okay too.”

Oscillation Design

Where we merge opposing sensibilities of modernism and post-modernism together. From both look and feel, with messaging and tone. We pair opposing modern and post-modern attributes to radically juxtaposition our brand. This creates a tension within our work, business and efforts and allows the audience to decide how they should feel about our brand and their connection to our brand. This removes the worn out approach of marketing from a corporate tone of “we know best” or the post-modern tone of “we are here to disrupt and be the rebel”.

Everyperson Hero

The archetypes of society define personality traits around brands, businesses and celebrities. Whether we fully recognize this or not, we are drawn to opposing archetypes which will help us on our journey. Combine that with an overall effort of a brand or business related to a large customer base who all seeks a similar archetype, and you have a brand voice. The combination of a new kind of archetype exists where the personality takes on opposing archetypes. For example, The Everyperson is the Hero. We see this exemplified in norm core fashion with celebrities, Progressive Insurance commercials, indie films, and new consumer brands. We can find a relation between the desire to be a Hero, but find familiarity in a Hero who is an Everyperson. This is a juxtaposition of both the modernist Hero and the post-modernist Everyperson.

New Minimalism

Combining low level efforts of content, information, production value and creative with a larger grand narrative. This minimalism is meant to say more beyond the

Oscillation within the grand narrative

We either seek to combine the polarity of oscillating attributes of modernism and post-modernism to explore, discover or make sense of a grand narrative – or – we utilize the attributes of modernism and post-modernism combined to articulate a grand narrative.

Design Pastiche

UX / UI combinations

Merging of archaic design, computational design, skeuomorphism, ux/ui combinations where the feeling exists in both past computational design (early days of internet) combined with performance driven interaction, best practices and javascript. Or combining sleek modern design with clunky visuals of early days of the internet (think Yahoo! and GeoCities). Or the combination of design informed by natural aesthetic and organic materials mixed with the interaction of digital on mobile and desktop experiences.

Flat design vs. skeuomorphism 

In digital, we see the movement of digital design trends shift from skeuomorphism (a realistic look to windows and buttons that feel tangible) to a radical shift into flat design over the past few years. We have shifted away from the usage of gradient buttons from the early 2000’s into the 2010’s of flat design being the norm. Prior to this, we experienced a clunky sort of web – not for lack of design, but for lack of synergy between design and development. The development of HTML and CSS was in it’s infancy in the mid to late 90’s and the hardware did not allow for large uses of javascript or high-res imagery to implement into design and a digital experience. Given the evolution of the web from this to Web 2.0 to where we are today, I see a resurgence of “digital nostalgia” coming, where we will revisit the influences and elements of the 90’s digital design paired with really intelligent platforms, AI, mobile and reinvent through nostalgia a new experience in digital design. We will combine early 90s influences with flat design and skeuomorphism to create an entirely new feeling through digital.

Digital web design of the 90s was a result of post-modernists seeking to disrupt, envision a digital world and build upon the newness of the internet. I strongly remember the internet of the 90s where you had siloed websites, Yahoo, hotmail, AOL, ICQ messenger, a few large brands having a presence and a whole host of hobbyists creating on sites like GeoCities. The web was in its infancy. Born out  the post-modernists vision of creating a global platform. People tinkered, designed, developed and built on top of existing platforms and languages to move us into Web 2.0 where we saw the rise of places like MySpace, Facebook and Silicon Valley startups.

This postmodernist approach to design and development was then given a new breathe of life when Apple began to pay attention to designing beautiful products and platforms. This infromed new  developments, efforts, inspiration and ideas of what could now be capable with the evolution of the internet, browsers and experiences. The evolution grew from what felt like the future in the 90’s but now looks like an archaic unfamiliar clunky past of the dial-up internet era. I see a nostalgic lean back into this sentiment to create new experiences that informed this culture of design and development from the 90s

Using expected design elements paired with other expected design elements that traditionally do not go together

Considering an approach to new ideas by combining elements from modernist movements and post-modern movements to create a tension within the work. Either from a place of visual or messaging encompassing the oscillating approach of modernism and post-modernism. New nostalgia that encompasses a futuristic approach to our work. Old modernism that is revamped to hold post-modern tonality. When we mix and match between modernism and post-modernism, we explore new sensibilities within the work combined with the intentions behind why the work was created. This pendulum builds new sensibilities for our audience in a metamodern approach.

Intentionally uninspiring

Normalcy of everyday life can emerge grand narratives. Choosing to discover the grand narratives and utilize everyday tools and objects to represent or define a greater meaning and be a useful tool for metamodern work.

Finding the grand narrative within the uninspiring parts of life builds an approach to our work that provokes deeper sensibility. To intentionally design an idea where the combination of a grand narrative is represented by an uninspiring idea or object creates an odd sense of tension for the audience.

Utilizing simple everyday tools and objects such as furniture, kitchen items, household products or office supplies to create or represent a grand narrative builds a new sensibility of these mundane items we often overlook or ignore. The balance is creating a grand narrative in our work with a post-modern tonality to oscillate between modernism and post-modernism.

For more inspiration here, I recommend reading “The Design of Everyday Things”, Donald Norman or “The Psychology of Everyday Things”, Donald Norman.

Metamodern Process

A process and strategy to move brands into the future using a metamodern approach to rethinking brands.

Understand the brand

Before we can evolve a brand, we must truly understand who the brand is, who they serve and what they do. From here, we can begin to build new pathways of creativity and design a new approach for the brand that exists within both modernism and post-modernism.

  • Brand attributes: Culture of your brand, Feeling you want your audience to experience, Impact your brand has on your audience, Voice of your brand, X-Factor of what makes you unique
  • Build brand positioning statement: A statement which defines who you are, what you stand for and who your audience is.
  • Evaluate messaging from top 5 of each category: Build messages around the positioning statement and brand attributes.
  • Map examples: Create examples and then rework them to find a balance between modernism and post-modernism tonalities.

All of these items being outlined, it is not to say that if you carry out these strategies and tactics, you will be a futuristic designer armed with new information and outlooks on your work to be cutting edge, radical and forward-thinking.

Not at all.

This is exists as the starting place.

The real effort lies within you, the Designer, the Business person, the Creative, the driver of culture and society.

You must now embark on a deeper dive into the self. To understand and redefine where you must exist. Between the oscillation of both modernist and post-modernist ideals. Because truth does exist within one polarity or the other. And if you seek to guide others to an unwavering truth for themselves, you must understand this truth within yourself. Beyond your political, religious or bias leanings that you have learned over time. To think critically not about your work, but to think critically about your role and place within society and allow that understanding to effect and drive your work forward.


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