Monday, May 05, 2003

Good Experience Live XIII

Andrew Zolli: After "Experience Design"

Andrew Zolli is a partner in Z + Partners. A forecaster and design strategist, Zolli edited the Catalog of Tomorrow. Here is a rough transcript of his talk at Good Experience Live:

I'm representing the big and tall wing of the decidedly less sexy than the last speaker contingent of today's program. My most recent design challenge occurred at 6:45 this morning. I had to get to a car service, and I was running a little late. There's a huge South Indian community that's grown up near where I live. The car took off. "To the New York Historical Society!" We end up somewhere that I think was Bellevue, and my driver said we're here. This isn't it! I think it's on the west side. He said, "This is the New York Hysterical Society."

We tend to equate experiences with brands. We tend to think less about the linkages between experiences and culture. I started to work on a book that's coming out next year that's about what it's like working in the sausage factory that is today's economy. I went out an dinterviewed a lot of white happy people. 400 people. 100 people in an urban context. 100 in a suburban context. 100 in a rural context.

Today companies are in the business of culture. They're brands are culture. But they're not measured or rewarded for the extent to which they further the values of our culture. In urban areas, people are averse to logos on their clothing. What they wear makes a statement. If you go to a rural area, people welcome logos. I went to Muncie, Indiana, to a church that was putting a Starbucks in. The day I visited, the two televangelists were writing a sermon called "Christianity: Are you living the brand?" Across the street, there was a funeral for someone being buried with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. These are complex ambiguities.

The people on the left of our society have found a new cause celebre. We have moved beyond identity politics. In Monroe, Alabama, there's a company selling brand new police cars to rural communities for $1. The state has vacated. There's no infrastructure. The deal is that the cars are adorned with corporate logos. Now, you won't just see interstitial ads in between shots of white trash on the Cops TV show, you'll see it during the arrest itself.

Why is this happening? This is not these companies' fault. It's because the market has become a central meaning-making organization in people's lives. Meaning-making organizations like churches and political parties. How many of you know who your congressman is? But everyone has an opinion about Wal-Mart. The state has taken a step back, and the market has taken its place.

There are two interesting periods in history. One is the one in which everything was invented. And one was the most recent period. Think about the change you've experienced in the last two decades, multiply it by 25, and that's the change experienced in the initial invention period. What causes this thrusting upward? Globalization, new technology, deregulation, tax policy, and public policy.

Back in the early 1980s we embarked on two critical decisions. One was to deregulate. And one was to cut back on making public policy. The first one looks like Enron when you swing it all the way out. And the other looks like corporate logos on cop cars when you swing it all the way out. Companies practically wet themselves over these curves. We pushed the market into the public sphere.

At the same time, the conversation moved. Commodities changed into products changed into services changed into experiences. You can differentiate there, so do it. Here's the interesting thing. Our conversation as professionals and designers stopped there. The other side of that is culture. It's about being a cultural icon and having a different relationship.

There's also a collision between the force of intimacy and transparency. Google Home Depot. The first thing that comes up is Home Depot. Then Home Depot Sucks. Then Home Depot's suppliers. One of my favorite sites is, which matches people based on whether they're Coke and Pepsi people. What comes next? What's likely to come is a new curve elevated by new drivers: values, sustainability, accountability, dialogue.

Is growth the paramount virtue? Is scale the enemy of authenticity? Do we need a longer term view? Is profit merely financial? Are we only consumers? How should we measure and reward?

Eamonn Kelly, head of the Global Business Network summed it up best: "We've pushed market wisdom and moral wisdom as far apart as possible. The goal now is to bring them back together."

No comments: