Continuing the thoughts of my previous post – and thereby the development of the aesthetic strategy, I am working on at the moment – I intend to discuss what extending the “payoff time” includes, and why doing so (or not doing so) can be a strategic parameter. By prolonging the time it takes the receiver to understand and “take in” the concept or product, you are forcing him/ her to be focused and present. Instant presence is a part of the extended aesthetic experience.

It takes time to decode a complex object or concept, or to understand previously unseen combinations or asymmetrical compositions. But as a designer it is a strategic move to seek to prolong the payoff time, as time spent decoding the design, makes the receiver feel connected to the concept or object. Payoff happens as an interaction between object and subject.
There is a larger chance that the impression of the design stays with you, if you have had to, and wanted to, spend time understanding the thoughts behind it or the reason that it initially either broke your comfort zone or confused you. It is, however, important to remember that understanding and payoff, or the “ah, I get it”-feeling must be possible. If not, the experience is nothing but chaos. Therefore an understanding and analysis of your target group’s assumptions and habitus is crucial. How far can you go? And how much complexity and time does it take to challenge and move your receiver? It might take a lot; your target group might be used to handling and seeing products similar to yours on a daily basis. Or it might not take much more than using an unexpected material or shaping an everyday object in an unconventional way.

When having an aesthetic experience, which I would basically describe as an experience that in some way causes sensuous delight, you move through different stages. Inspired by Immanuel Kant’s thoughts on the sublime experience in Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (written in 1764), it makes sense to me to talk about three stages of the aesthetic experience: you have an encounter with the object/ concept, you (fight to) grasp it, and you move on – calmer, enlightened or more conscious of the surrounding world.
With respect to strategically planning an aesthetic experience that provides an extended payoff time, the second stage is of great importance. In Kant’s philosophy understanding arises when rational senses save the imagination from confusion, and make the mind realize what is going on. And you can strategically work with prolonging this stage.
On the second stage of the sublime aesthetic experience, while trying to grasp or understand the object that in some way is challenging you, you are instantly extremely present. You are a subject, right here, right now, confronted with a complex object.

I have tried listing some (there are definitely more!) general “tools” that can extend the payoff time and force the receiver to be instantly present:

  • Using unexpected materials and combinations
  • Asymmetrical compositions
  • Re-design with focus on re-using materials and/ or objects in a new way
  • Working with the illusion of tactility in a non-tactile medium (and making the eyes image how it would feel to touch)
  • Turning things upside down, literally and figuratively
  • Making the design process visual, and thereby rethinking the traditional focus on result and finish

Instant presence is about prolonging the payoff time in the aesthetic experience, and thereby forcing the receiver to be focused and present and to strain the senses to capture the design. Using this strategy as a designer you aim to momentarily break the comfort zone of the receiver and to challenge his/ her assumptions.
Instant payoff is another strategy, and the counterpoint of the extension of the pay-off time. This dimension to aesthetic strategy will be discussed in a future post, and concerns concepts or products where instant decoding and understanding is desired. It is about meeting expectations and supporting the comfort zone.

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