Living in the Conceptual Age

Think of the last 150 years of human evolution as a three-act drama:

Act I, the Industrial Age. Massive factories fueled the economy that led by mass production worker with physical strength.

Act II, the Information Age. Information and knowledge took the lead roles in the developed world where rockstars were knowledge workers whose was proficiency in L-directed thinking (the process that is done by the left hemisphere of the brain, aka logic).

Act III, the Conceptual Age. Creators and empathizers are the main characters, whose cardinal trails follow R-directed thinking (creativity & empathy).

As individuals and economies grow fruitful, where technologies are steadily developing, and the world becomes more connected, these three forces (ATG- affluence, technology and globalization) gradually nudge us into a new age. The conceptual age, when we rarely see people talking about elementary for survival, but the desire and demand of self-care, empathy, emotions, and aesthetic.

High Concept & High Touch

Daniel H. Pink believes in this new era, each of us must look carefully at what we do and ask ourselves three questions:

  • Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
  • Can a computer do it faster?
  • Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?

We must perform work that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that computers can’t do faster, and that satisfies the demands of a prosperous time.

But on another level, that answer is inadequate. What exactly are we supposed to do?

L-directed-thinking remains necessary but no longer sufficient, we must become proficient in R-Directed Thinking and master aptitudes that are high concept and high touch.

  • High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly related ideas into something new.
  • High touch involves the ability to emphasize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.

The Democracy of Design

Design is a classic whole-minded aptitude, a combination of utility (L-directed thinking) and significance (R-directed thinking). Good design is now more accessible and affordable than ever, thanks to the rising of prosperity and advancing technology. It also offers us a chance to bring meaning, pleasure and beauty to our daily lives.

As more accessible, more people have better design sensibility. If you ask, today most people can tell a font family is Helvetica, Arial or Times New Roman in comparing with the ’90s. Besides, in industry 4.0, your daily social networks like Facebook, Youtube and Netflix are highly personalized based on your preferences and interests, it feels like they are listening and understanding us, right?

That being said, Creativity and Empathy is no longer optional factors; it’s a must to win. The design has become democratized.

Design in its simplest form is the activity of creating solutions. Design is something that everyone does everyday (Nuovo)

Design means Business.

“In Sony, we assume that all products of our competitors have the same technology, price, performance and features. Design is the key to differentiate one product from another. “ (Norio Ohga, Sony Chairman)

“Manufacturers have begun to recognize that we can’t compete with the pricing structure and labour cost of the Far East, so how can we compete? It has to be with design.” (Paul Thompson, Cooper Hewitt Director)

My favourite example in the book is the Toaster.

  • How much time a typical person uses Toaster per day?
  • It’s about 15 minutes.

And the remaining 1,425 minutes of the day, that Toaster is on display in your dining room or kitchen. In order words, only 1% of the Toaster’s lifespan is for utility, while 99% is for significance. From this point, why shouldn’t it be beautiful? And if you have a limited budget to improve the next Toaster generation, whether you choose to devote 1% or 99%?

Think about smartwatches, Apple is not only selling the utility, but it comes with a bundle of accessories within different styles, colours and materials. Nowadays, consumers willing to pay more for accessories for their smartwatches and phones. They have morphed from “logical devices” (speed, functional) to “emotional devices” (expressive, customizable, fanciful)

The Six Senses

As designers, empathizers, and creators, these six senses will guide our lives and shape our world.

Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning.

Sense 01.

Not just function but also DESIGN. It’s no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a merely functional lifestyle. Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.

Sense 02.

Not just argument but also STORY. When our lives are brimming with information and data, it’s not enough to marshal a compelling argument. Someone somewhere will inevitably track down a counterpoint to refute your point. The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative.

Sense 03.

Not just focus but also SYMPHONY. Much of the Industrial and Information Ages required focus and specialization. But as white-collar work gets routed to Asia and reduced to software, there’s a new premium on the opposite aptitude: putting the pieces together, or what I call Symphony.
What’s in most tremendous demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis — seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.

Sense 04.

Not just logic but also EMPATHY. The capacity for logical thought is one of the things that makes us human. But in a world of ubiquitous information and advanced analytic tools, logic alone won’t do. What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, or forge relationships, and to care for others.

Sense 05.

Not just seriousness but also PLAY. Ample evidence points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games, and humour. There is a time to be serious, of course. But too much sobriety can be bad for your career and worse for your general well-being. In the Conceptual Age, in work and life, we all need to play.

Sense 06.

Not just accumulation but also MEANING. We live in a world of breathtaking material plenty. That has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfilment.

This book and the information inside may not be new to many designers and creators. I love it because it’s not only a sweet summary for my day-to-day works but also profoundly well written and explained for wide-range readers in different contexts and professions. It is offering a new way of thinking about the future and movements that already arrived.

Thank you for reading this blog post.

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Anh Pham (AP)

Anh Pham (AP)

Product Designer. I believe joy exists in simple forms, so does design. I’m studying joys for a living.