Response to Tucker's 'Emotional (vs.) Intelligence'

*Counterpoint: Emotional (is) Intelligence.
By Scott Klinker, Designer-in-Residence, Cranbrook Academy of Art

Tucker’s Emotional (vs.) Intelligence rant makes some good points. Our mental environment is governed by irrational and often destructive emotional messages. Many designers feel a need to place their faith in rationality. The entire project of Modernism was based on such a faith. It led to a collective energy that we called ‘progress.’ It was a shared ‘truth’: designers could solve problems with rational scientific methods, we could improve living standards, make cheaper, better products for the greatest number of people. It was the driving force behind design. It was political and progressive. Although I did not grow up in the Modernist era of design, I believe in its basic tenants. I share Tucker’s lament for more rational times, and a more universal energy to guide us.

But when Tucker claims ‘this is not a parlor game of left vs. right or emotions vs. Intellect, it’s fiction vs. truth.’ I get confused. Whose truth is he talking about? Is it some universal, objective truth? Humans are capable of great compassion. Humans are capable of great selfishness. Truth is relative and subjective as we humans go about living a life, negotiating these natural, but contradictory impulses. The writer Jim Harrison said ‘we live in a time of few truths and many stories.’ This, to me, is not a jaded observation. This, to me, may be design’s single greatest truth. It represents the irrationality of the information-saturated, consumer capitalist world I grew up in, but also suggests the most rational way that I can approach this world as a designer. Truth is relative. Reality is relative. Just because I ‘realize’ objects doesn’t make it a dominant social reality. By shaping the material support for culture, designers make culture. Culture is built on the stories and values shared and believed by a group. If I believe in progress, and I do, then I put my faith in building a story that has a fighting chance in world of competing stories. The thing that makes stories such a powerful weapon of communication is that they appeal to the emotions. Designers should exploit the irrational emotional appeals of design to put across the more hopeful stories we need. Call it spin if you want. Designers unite. Spin for a better world!

I’m on Tucker’s side. But I would go one step further to say that we are in need of more than a renewed rationality in design. We are in need of a second, and sustainable, Modernity that revives the idea of progress by inventing smarter, greener systems. But for the story of a Second Modernity to take hold in the global public imagination, designers should bring out the big bullhorn and speak emotionally. Speak to the public’s hope, to their civic pride. Build technologies around hopeful values and make them emotional, sexy and cool. And then spin that emotional story with everything you got!

Scott Klinker is the principal of Scott Klinker Designs and Designer-in-Residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art’s graduate 3D Design Program.

In today’s (Tues.) New York Times, “Bush vs. the Laureates: How Science Became a Partisan Issue” at Bush vs. the Laureates: How Science Became a Partisan Issue - The New York Times

On Emotional (vs.) Intelligence by Tucker Viemeister

Finally had some time to read your article. Thanks!

It’s all true, design and designers aim at simple emotions to satisfy their clients. wanting to sell stuff. Being a designer myself I’ve given this thing some thought and I’m not sure what to do with it. It’s got everything to do with sustainability and in my opinion it poses a serious threat to our daily lifes. And design is a big factor.

How do you get people to like stuff that appeals to higher emotions when the whole world around you is throwing cheap thrills at you. It’s absurd. And it’s in every aspect of life. We don’t do ‘real’ stuff anymore, we don’t initiate and we have lost contact with our surroundings. There’s a gigantic threshold for people to realize that things that are less appealing at first glance (I’m convinced that stuff that appeals to higher emotions takes more effort or has some kind of hidden beauty) will be more fulfilling in the end. Will make you feel better consume less and have more friends, feel safer etc.

That last thing fits in nicely with your parallel to our current ‘political’ situation.

So what do we do.


Tucker’s points observe design as though there’s an urgent need to define its clarity in simple terms in today’s climate. I’ve experienced the rational realities behind design as described by Tucker. I still feel that design cannot exist simply as a rational service that we perform with basic emotional coatings that please the clients and consumers. Much of the process behind design imply a necessity to address intellectual and socio-cultural issues through potential design movements. I believe that as long as we’re given a creative stage to perform, we’re then presented with an opportunity to express individual perception as it pertains to critical human issues. Perhaps the fact that I speak from a fused cultural experience and background paints my design perception; it may be why I wasn’t able to make the rational and emotional connections as Tucker did. In terms of truth, is this foreign implant/fusion perception of mine a lesser truth?
This idea of design expression does not deny the typical designer/client/consumer process as described by tucker. It can be a designer’s challenge for a broader collaboration. A number of designers, Architects and thinkers primarily from Italy came together to refute a form of formality that defined design in the eighties behind Memphis. This sort of challenge can become an important interogation of design and the times within which it functions.
I enjoyed Tucker’s article. But I think Scott Klinker’s response made an important addition to it.

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truth just “is”…man created fiction, just as he created evil…if elephants eat all the vegetation in thier habitat and go extinct, this is nature (a good thing), however, if man depleats the earth of petroleum, this is un-natural (a bad thing)…from what i read, the current cycle (there have been several) in which earth can sustain life in any form is now more than 90% complete, man has existed for a fraction of 1% of this cycle and it is highly unlikely that we will be around to see another .01%. if we get the chance, perhaps we will do a “better” job of our .02% next cycle, as long as one of us doesn’t go and invent marketing again.