Whenever I think about designing something to have a better chance of being contagious, the issue of
authenticity invariably comes up. All things being equal, we’re more likely to tell people about the authentic things in our lives. When was the last time you joined a cause because it was hollow, shallow, and fake? Authenticity matters.
But, what is it? I know it when I see it, hear it, feel it — but what is it? And can it be designed? Or does the act of designing it break it? In other words, can an authentic experience of Paris-ness be designed, or does a designed version of Paris end up feeling a lot like Paris in Las Vegas? Perhaps a way to answer the questions of "what is it?" and "can we design it?" is to borrow a page from the book (or blog?) of John Maeda and endeavor to come up with principles of authenticity. If we can come up with design principles for authenticity, then we’ll have a better understanding of what makes for authentic experiences, as well as the means to design them in a more predictable manner.
The first design principle I’d like to discuss is the idea of a strong point of view. Authenticity, it would seem to me, demands a strong point of view. In other words, a clear sense of what matters. The ability to make choices. A deep understanding of what you are and are not. What does a strong point of view look like? A great example is Jitensha Studio, a Berkeley bicycle shop run by Hiroshi Iimura. Last year the New York Times ran an evocative profile of Jitnesha which contained this ode to a strong point of view from Mr. Iimura:
If a customer wants a component that is not to my taste, I refuse. No brightly colored seats. No neon.
Nothing flashy, nothing impractical. I have to satisfy my own tastes first.
A strong, coherent vision of where things need to go is the bedrock of authenticity, I’d argue. Porsche was a more authentic brand when Porsche was run by a Porsche whose opinions about Porsche-ness could trump any marketing study. Apple is all about a clear point of view, and it’s certainly the most authentic manufacturer of consumer products out there today. Anything Virgin is about an authentic experience of what it feels like to be irreverently original. And so on and so forth.
Thoughts? Am I full of it? What are some other possible principles? Should we catch this train?